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The role of sense-making in working across internal interfaces in a multi-national organisation

Bromley, M. (2010) The role of sense-making in working across internal interfaces in a multi-national organisation. DBA thesis, University of Reading

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Abstract/Summary

In a world of accelerated pace and increased globalisation, managers are responding with organisation designs that are often matrix managed, geographically diverse and reliant on interdependency between groups. Interfaces are a fundamental part of that design. The ability to work across both internal and external interfaces has become increasingly important, but rather than utilising diversity and collaboration to the organisations advantage, it is often an inhibiting tension; a place where teams get “stuck”. In today‟s complex environment managers are interested in identifying the drivers which enable effective action across internal interfaces. This thesis seeks to identify the components of an effective interface and explores the role of sense-making as an enabler or inhibitor in working between groups and creating effective movement across internal interfaces. In exploring the topic it asks three key questions: Why do teams get stuck at the interface? What holds them there? What might help create movement? Considered from a complexity perspective, which acknowledges the messy, unpredictable and non-linear nature of organisations; it takes a phenomenological and interpretive approach. It employed a „bricolage‟ approach as a means of researching in this context; which pragmatically uses multiple tools and methodologies. The primary methodology used was that of a Case Study, where three case studies were conducted in the same multi national organisation. These provide an empirical view of different types of interfaces in their day to day context. It took an Action Research orientation as the author worked with teams at organisational interfaces in exploring how they might work together more effectively. A semi Grounded Theory approach was taken for data analysis. The thesis presents six core findings. The first two findings relate to interface effectiveness; namely that: the components of inter- team effectiveness have the same basis as team effectiveness, and secondly that interface effectiveness might be considered a variant of team effectiveness but can be differentiated from „boundary spanning‟ These two findings enabled the development of a framework to consider interface effectiveness. A further four findings related to sense- making at the interface; these were that there are a number of key triggers at the interface where sense giving and sense making occur; that there is a critical interplay between sense giving and sense-making at the interface which can enable or impede action. This can be seen both in terms of hierarchical sense giving and peer to peer sense giving and making. The fifth finding concluded that although sense-making is a live and dynamic process happening in the moment; there is a time lag between sense-making and sense-giving which needs to be appreciated. Finally this research supports findings elsewhere that skills in dialogue and narrative are key enablers in the sense-making process. The thesis concludes with a discussion of the study limitations and identifies areas for future research.

Item Type:Thesis (DBA)
Thesis Supervisor:
Thesis/Report Department:Henley Business School
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Henley Business School
ID Code:84594

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