Proceedings of the 51st Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2007, Tokyo, Japan, Papers: 51st Annual Meeting

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Intervening in Counterproductive Self-Organized Dynamics in the Workplace

Pamela Buckle, G. Keith Henning


Self-organization can generate unintended systemic patterns of behaviour in corporate settings. Such patterns can be difficult to detect for several reasons. Among them is the tendency for self-organization to emerge spontaneously, without planning or intentional design (a tendency running contrary to the expectations of intentionality and control prevalent in workplaces). Self-organization also unfolds dynamically, involving repetitive behaviours that are, paradoxically, unpredictable. Self-organization also entrains people’s behaviour in patterns, making it difficult for those people to recognize the patterns to which they themselves are contributing. These factors and others make self-organization difficult to recognize. However, because self-organized patterns can confound the best-laid plans of business leaders, allowing self-organized patterns to unfold unimpeded may not be acceptable to organizational leaders.

Drawing from an international grounded theory study of workplace pattern identification, this article examines the intervention options used by people working in organizations once they have identified a counterproductive self-organized dynamic. We also discuss obstacles to intervention and the ethical considerations raised by those wishing to intervene in self-organized workplace dynamics.

The discovery of self-organized patterns could be a tremendous contribution to those charged with the responsibility of leading and working in organizations. Realizing this contribution depends on the coupling of pattern detection with appropriate and sound intervention strategies. This paper begins a series of articles that will explore intervention strategies from empirical and theoretical perspectives. This first article allows us to start an examination and development of epistemologically and psychologically appropriate interventions from a phenomenologically sound position.