Inside Organizations: Exploring Organizational Experiences

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David Coghlan

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    About the Author

    David Coghlan is Professor Emeritus at Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland and is Fellow Emeritus of the college. He specializes in organization development and action research, and is active in both communities internationally. He has published over 140 articles and book chapters. He is co-author of the internationally popular Doing Action Research in Your Own Organization (4th edn, SAGE, 2014) and is co-editor of The SAGE Encyclopedia of Action Research (2014). Other books include Organizational Change and Strategy: An Interlevel Dynamics Approach (2nd edn, Routledge, 2016). He is co-editor of the four volume sets Fundamentals of Organization Development (SAGE, 2010) and Action Research in Business and Management (SAGE, 2016). He is currently on the editorial boards of Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, Action Research and Action Learning: Research and Practice among others.

    Acknowledgements

    I owe the foundations of my curiosity about what goes on in organizations to Ed Schein. He introduced me to the work of Erving Goffman, to Don Schon and to the habit of attending to process. For sixty years he has creatively and systematically shaped theory and practice on organizational dynamics by providing rich theoretical and practical reflections on the cultural dynamics of complex systems, process interventions and the clinical research paradigm. As my former teacher and mentor and then my friend, he has shaped my formation and my scholarship. His influence permeates this book.

    My immeasurable thanks goes to successive cohorts of the final-year undergraduate course Exploring Organizational Experiences in the Trinity Business School, where their engagement in insider inquiry provided the stimulus for the book and test runs of the chapters as course working papers. Without these students’ struggles to master insider inquiry and my effort to accompany them this book would not exist.

    I am grateful to David Tuohy and Ann Donohue who provided detailed feedback on each chapter and who challenged me to sharpen my thinking and forms of presentation.

    The book has been richly enhanced by the skilled illustrations by Daniel Daly (http://dansdoodles.org). Thank you, Dan, for sharing your skills and your time so generously.

    Finally, I acknowledge invaluable help and support of the SAGE editorial and production teams, especially Kirsty Smy, Lyndsay Aitken, Sarah Cooke and Gemma Marren.

  • Appendix 1 Keeping a Learning Journal

    A learning journal is a record of your efforts to puzzle through events, thoughts and feelings about a particular aspect of life close to when these events take place. It reflects your own effort to capture your learning as it unfolds over time. It can record anything and in any way in relation to the issues under consideration. There are many reasons for keeping a journal. You may want to capture an experience before you forget it, to explore your feelings or to make sense of what you are puzzling over. Most times you write for yourself; other times you are required to write for others such as when prescribed in a course.

    With respect to the context where journal keeping is prescribed in a course, journal writing is intimately linked to learning through how it enhances reflection and reflective practice. Reflection is the means by which experience is turned into learning through exploring experiences so as to learn from them. Writing a learning journal means puzzling through what is happening at work and in your life. A learning journal is like a diary but it is oriented towards learning and thus towards deliberative thought and analysis related to practice, and so it is a vehicle for reflection. In terms of the learning formula L = P + Q, your journal is your personal record of how your learning (L) is emerging from your subjecting espoused theory (P) to questioning (Q) from your experience. It is expected that your journal is private and confidential, for your eyes only, though in a course setting your supervisor may read it and is expected to keep its contents confidential. The Reflective Pauses dotted throughout the chapters are another source of journal entries.

    There are several purposes of keeping a learning journal. The main purpose is to deepen the quality of your learning through critical thinking and by developing a questioning attitude. Accordingly, a second purpose is to enable you to understand and increase participation and ownership of your own learning process, rather than being dependent on a textbook or a lecture. Essentially a journal captures

    • what took place on a particular occasion (what you and others said and did)
    • what you thought and felt about what happened and probably didn’t say at the time
    • what your reflection is on both of the above.

    In terms of the general empirical method introduced in Chapter 2, what a learning journal seeks to capture is how you try to:

    • be attentive to what is going on around you
    • be intelligent in your understanding
    • be reasonable in your judgements
    • be responsible for your actions.

    While journals may be highly structured or unstructured, in the context of keeping a learning journal in a course, it is useful to have some structure so as to keep track of your learning and so that your lecturer may be able to evaluate it. A useful format might be:

    • Recount an incident – who said and did what, what you thought and felt.
    • What questions arise for you from that incident?
    • What insights have you into that incident? About the situation? About you?
    • Can you test or have you tested those insights? Question your own thinking.
    • Then/now what?

    It is important that journal entries are linked to one another so that your reflection on a particular incident finds echoes in your reflection on other and later incidents, where you might show how you learned from an earlier incident or that you haven’t and how that sets up a further question and inquiry. A learning journal maps reflection over time as well as at a particular time, hence dating your entries enables you to view developments over time.

    Appendix 2 Writing a Reflective Essay

    Writing a reflective essay is different from writing a traditional essay. A reflective essay aims at showing how you have turned experience into learning. As such learning is emergent rather than planned and your paper needs to provide evidence of how your reflection on events and your own thinking have changed you in some way. Your reflective essay needs to show how the learning formula, L = P + Q, has happened for you, that you demonstrate your learning about your organization and your own thinking through a clinical approach. As Chapter 2 introduced, the clinical approach involves building theory and empirical knowledge: in-depth observation of crucial cases of learning and change, studying the effects of interventions and focusing on the characteristic of systems that are difficult to explain. This clinical approach gives focus to the learning formula, L=P+Q, as it sharpens the questioning of insider experience and engages that questioning with knowledge of organizational theory and behaviour so as to generate learning.

    Essentially a reflective essay captures your learning from reflecting on a situation or a series of events. So it is more than simply describing what took place. Merely describing what happened does not constitute reflective thinking. Reflective thinking requires showing how you have thought about what took place and how you have thought about your thinking about it. In other words your reflective essay captures the inner and outer arcs of attention and your use of the general empirical method which takes you from experience to understanding to testing that understanding to judgement. In moving through the general empirical method the challenge is to show evidence of your learning from the searching questions that you have been asking. Use useful tools that you have learned, such as the JOHARI Window, Transactional Analysis, the Ladder of Inference, taking facts as hypotheses or the double-column technique. Be wary of making untested inferences or attributions.

    Examples of questions that may help your critical thinking are:

    • What assumptions were you making at the outset? Did you challenge them and then were they confirmed or disconfirmed?
    • What surprised, annoyed ... you most?
    • Does your reasoning process follow the general empirical method and show how attentive you were to your experience, how your understanding is intelligent and your judgements are reasonable?
    • Are there alternative explanations or conclusions other than yours? How have you considered them?
    • What have you learned about yourself – how you think, how you relate?
    • What might you do differently if similar situations occur?

    The core source of your reflective essay is likely to be your learning journal where, in the mode of the clinical approach, you have captured the exploration of your thinking about incidents in the organization and about your thinking about your thinking. The quality of your journal keeping contributes to what you can draw on for a reflective essay, particularly if you are writing about incidents that took place some time ago. Parallel to drawing on your journal is how you draw on what you have read (the P of the learning formula). Your reading will have informed your understanding and challenged your thinking (the Q of the learning formula). Inquiring into your own thinking also provides the challenge to confront any disparity between your thinking in the past when events took place and current hindsight as you write your paper now.

    While there is no standardized format for reflective essays, it is useful to have some structure so as to be able to articulate your learning so that your lecturer may be able to evaluate it. A useful format might be:

    • Summarize a series of incidents – who said and did what, what you thought and felt over the series of events. What P are you drawing on?
    • What question arises for you from those incidents? How is P challenged?
    • What insights have you into those incidents? About the situation? About you?
    • Have you tested those insights? What further reading (P) has helped you test them and consolidate or challenge your insights? How have you been critical of your own thinking about these events?
    • What are the overall judgements that you are making after multiple experiences, insights and judgements over the time of your inquiry. What’s your theory of your organization that you have verified empirically?
    • Show how you have learned as well as what you have learned.

    Appendix 3 Guiding and Supervising Insider Inquiry

    This appendix is directed to supervisors, mentors and those who guide students engaging in insider inquiry. The general empirical method introduced in Chapter 2 and followed through the book is a useful framework for supervisors and mentors to follow and it stays consistent with what the student are attempting. The students are invited to describe their experiences and their questions arising from those experiences, name their insights and then verify them. The general empirical method is to: be attentive to experience, be intelligent in understanding and be reasonable in affirming judgements. Supervisors may support their students to describe their experiences, to show how their understanding and their judgements are intelligent and how their articulated learning is reasonable.

    Utilizing the work of Edgar Schein who has written extensively on how to be helpful, which, of course, is the intention of the supervisor or mentor, the following approach is suggested. Schein describes several types of inquiry and frames a typology of interventions (see Table 1). His first category is what he calls pure inquiry. This is where supervisors and mentors listen carefully and neutrally to the stories that the students describe and prompt the elicitation and exploration of the story of what is taking place. Examples of pure inquiry interventions are: Tell me what happened? Who said what to whom? Then what happened? What did you do? Questions such as these enable the students to relate their experience and allow them to feel ownership of their stories’ issues and experience the facilitative role of the supervisor. It would be expected that these experiences are recorded in the students’ learning journals.

    The second type of inquiry is what Schein calls diagnostic inquiry, in which supervisors begin to guide the students’ thinking process. Examples of helpful questions in this mode are: What do you think was going on in this episode? How did you feel about that? Is there anything you’ve read that helps you make sense of what took place?

    The third type of inquiry is what Schein calls confrontive inquiry. This is where supervisors, by sharing their own ideas, challenge the students to think from an alternative perspective. Here supervisors may direct the students to other viewpoints and may suggest new or alternative readings.

    Table 1 Intervention Typology

    Task

    Intervention

    Useful Questions

    Uncovering Experience

    Pure Inquiry

    Tell me what happened? Who said what to whom? Then what happened?

    What did you do?

    Probing for Insight

    Diagnostic Inquiry

    What do you think was going on in this episode? How did you feel about that? Is there anything you’ve read that helps you make sense of what took place?

    Aiming for Judgement

    Confrontive

    Have you considered ... as an alternative interpretation?

    Look up X.

    Through pure, diagnostic and confrontive inquiry, supervisors and mentors engage with the students to draw out their experience, articulate their insights and verify their judgements. They are helping the students attend to their experience, have insights into those experiences, make judgements as to whether the insights fit the evidence. The conversations between supervisors and students enable the students to tell the stories of their insider experiences (through pure inquiry), to articulate their insights and interpretations (through diagnostic inquiry) and to frame these insights as reasonable judgements and formulate their learning (through confrontive inquiry). With supervisors’ and mentors’ interventions in harmony with how the students are engaging with their insider inquiry the learning may be enhanced.

    Appendix 4 Researching from the Inside

    This appendix is directed towards readers whose insider inquiry is undertaken as more formalized research, for a dissertation, for example. This appendix locates inquiry from the inside in a philosophy of social science that seeks to understand meaning and introduces some basic tenets of insider research.

    The history of the philosophy of social science demonstrates debates about a distinction between approaches that pursue explanation and those that pursue understanding. The former emulates the natural sciences and works with grounding research in comparable standards of evidence prediction and inference and leads to the empiricist tradition of research. The latter, critical of the former’s ability to deal with human meaning, seeks to emphasize the interpretation of human meaning in the science of human organization and action and leads to the interpretive tradition of research. For example, the symbolic interactionist approach, found in Goffman’s work explored in Chapter 1, reflects the social nature of meaning and how it is constructed and maintained through social interaction. Hollis notes that there are two stories to tell about the social world and how it works. One starts as the insider’s or agent’s story about what social life means and the other as an outsider’s or spectator’s story about the causes of social behaviour and action.

    Insider inquiry as more formalized research typically finds its home in the philosophy of social science that purses understanding. It values and addresses the experience of being a participant and it builds up insider knowledge. The challenge for insider researchers is to use their experience, intelligence and reason in order to come to know the mixture of experience, understanding, judgements and actions in their organizational setting and to show how they are providing a reasonable account of the available evidence.

    In a seminal article, Evered and Louis distinguish between ‘inquiry from the inside’ and ‘inquiry from the outside’. ‘Inquiry from the outside’ refers to traditional science where the researchers’ relationship to the setting is detached and neutral. Typically researchers act as onlookers, and they apply a priori categories to create universal, context free knowledge. The basis for validity is measurement and logic. In contrast, ‘inquiry from the inside’ involves researchers as actors, immersed in local situations generating contextually embedded knowledge that emerges from experience. Alvesson uses the term ‘self-ethnography’ to describe insider research in which the researcher-author describes a cultural setting to which he/she has a ‘natural access’, is an active participant and is more or less on equal terms with other participants. The researcher then works and/or lives in the setting and uses the experiences, knowledge and access to empirical material for research purposes. He argues that ‘observing participant’ is a better term to use than ‘participant observer’. Participation comes first and is only occasionally complemented with observation in a research-focus sense.

    Insider inquiry works from direct personal experience. Evered and Louis refer to their method of insider inquiry as ‘multisensory holistic immersion’ and as ‘messy, iterative groping’, which they contrast with procedures of forming and testing explicit hypotheses associated with the scientific method. As insiders listen to what people say, observe what people do and question the outcomes of deliberate and spontaneous action, intended and unintended, they learn to ‘decipher the blooming, buzzing confusion’ around them.

    The general empirical method introduced in Chapter 2 provides a rigorous method that enables inquiry into experience and self-reflectiveness on how one is constructing interpretations. Insider researchers use their own experience, intelligence and reason in order to come to know the behaviour of the members of the organization under study. Such a critically reflective approach enables insider researchers to articulate tacit knowledge which has become deeply segmented due to socialization in an organizational system, and reframe it as theoretical knowledge. Reflexivity is the concept used in the social sciences to explore and deal with the relationship between the researcher and the object of research.

    For some insider researchers insider inquiry may be grounded in an approach that seeks not only to understand their own organization but also to change it. This approach is termed action research and involves the deliberate construction, planning, enactment and evaluation of cycles of action and reflection. Such insider action research requires explicit attention to the politics of change in building collaborative relations with key stakeholders and commitment to the change. Selection of an insider action research approach tends to be adopted by those who are in a managerial position to enact change in their own organization and who act as scholar-practitioners in integrating their practice with research.

    References and Suggested Reading

    Introduction
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    Chapter 1
    Argyris, C. ( 2010 ) Organizational Traps. New York: Oxford University Press.
    Bennis, W. , Van Maanen, J. , Schein, E.H. and Steele, F. ( 1979 ) Essays in Interpersonal Dynamics. Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press.
    Bolman, L.G. and Deal, T.E. ( 2013 ) Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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    Morgan, G. ( 1985 ) Images of Organization. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
    Schein, E.H. ( 2009 ) The Corporate Culture Survival Guide,
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    Chapter 2
    Argyris, C. ( 2010 ) Organizational Traps. New York: Oxford University Press.
    Burns, D. ( 2000 ) Feeling Good. Harper: New York.
    Evered, R. and Louis, M.R. ( 1981 ) ‘Alternative perspectives in the organisational sciences: “Inquiry from the inside” and “inquiry from the outside”’, Academy of Management Review, 6: 385395.
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    Chapter 4
    Argyris, C. ( 2010 ) Organizational Traps. New York: Oxford University Press.
    Hirschhorn, L. ( 1988 ) The Workplace Within. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
    Marshak, R. ( 2006 ) Covert Processes at Work. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler.
    Chapter 5
    Ashforth, B. and Lee, R. , ( 1990 ) ‘Defensive behavior in organizations: a preliminary model’, Human Relations, 43 (7): 621648.
    Bento, R. ( 1994 ) ‘When the show must go on: disenfranchised grief in organizations’, Journal of Managerial Psychology, 9 (6): 3544.
    Coghlan, D. , Rashford, N.S. and Neiva de Figueiredo, J. ( 2016 ) Organizational Change and Strategy: An Interlevel Dynamics Approach,
    2nd
    edn. Abingdon: Routledge.
    Fineman, S. ( 1993 ) Emotion in Organizations. London: SAGE.
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    Mishra, J. ( 1990 ) ‘Managing the grapevine’, Public Personnel Management, 19 (2): 213228
    Merry, U. and Brown, G. ( 1987 ) The Neurotic Behavior of Organizations. Cleveland, OH: Gestalt Institute of Cleveland Press.
    Morris, J.A. and Feldman, D.C. ( 1996 ) ‘The dimensions, antecedents and consequences of emotional labour’, Academy of Management Review, 21 (4): 9861010.
    Palmer, B. and McCaughan, N. ( 1994 ) Systems Thinking for Harassed Managers. London: Karnac.
    Parment, A. ( 2012 ) Generation Y in Consumer and Labour Markets. Abingdon: Routledge.
    Parrott, G.S. and Smith R.H. ( 1993 ) ‘Distinguishing the experiences of envy and jealousy’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64: 906920.
    Rothlin, P. and Werder, P. ( 2008 ) Boreout! Overcoming Workplace Demotivation. London: Kogan Page.
    Schein, E.H. ( 1978 ) Career Dynamics. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
    Schein, E.H. ( 2004 ) ‘Learning when and how to lie: a neglected aspect of organizational and occupational socialization’, Human Relations, 17 (3): 259273.
    Senge, P. ( 1990 ) The Fifth Discipline. New York: Doubleday.
    Senge, P. , Roberts, C. , Ross, R. , Smith, B. and Kleiner, A. ( 1994 ) The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook. London: Nicholas Brealey.
    Stapley, L. ( 2006 ) Individuals, Groups and Organizations Beneath the Surface. London: Karnac.
    Waddington, K. ( 2013 ) Gossip and Organizations. Abingdon: Routledge.
    Chapter 6
    Argyris, C. ( 1985 ) Strategy, Change and Defensive Routines. Boston: Pitman.
    Argyris, C. and Schon, D. ( 1996 ) Organizational Learning II. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
    Bolman, L.G. and Deal, T.E. ( 2013 ) Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership,
    5th
    edn. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    Coghlan, D. and Rashford, N.S. and Neiva de Figueiredo, J. ( 2016 ) Organizational Change and Strategy: An Interlevel Dynamics Approach,
    2nd
    edn. Abingdon: Routledge.
    Fisher, D. , Rooke, D. and Torbert, W.R. ( 2000 ) Personal and Organizational Transformations through Action Inquiry. Boston: Edge/Work Press.
    Mintzberg, H. ( 1992 ) ‘Five Ps for strategy’. In H. Mintzberg and J.B. Quinn (eds), The Strategy Process. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall International Editions, pp. 1219.
    Torbert, W.R. and Associates ( 2004 ) Action Inquiry. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
    Chapter 7
    Argyris, C. ( 1990 ) Overcoming Organizational Defenses. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
    Argyris, C. and Schon, D. ( 1996 ) Organizational Learning II. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
    Beckhard, R. and Harris, R. ( 1987 ) Organizational Transitions: Managing Complex Change,
    2nd
    edn. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
    Coghlan, D. and Rashford, N.S. and Neiva de Figueiredo, J. ( 2016 ) Organizational Change and Strategy: An Interlevel Dynamics Approach,
    2nd
    edn. Abingdon: Routledge.
    Crossan, M. , Lane, H. and White, R. ( 1999 ) ‘An organizational learning framework: from intuiting to institution’, Academy of Management Review, 24 (3): 522537.
    Schein, E.H. ( 2009 ) The Corporate Culture Survival Guide,
    2nd
    edn. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    Chapter 8
    Coghlan, D. and Graham Cagney, A. ( 2013 ) ‘“Multisensory holistic immersion”: a method of insider inquiry as a threshold concept’, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, Issue 5.
    Dewey, J. ( 1938 ) Experience and Education. New York: Macmillan.
    Evered, R. and Louis, M.R. ( 1981 ) ‘Alternative perspectives in the organizational sciences: “Inquiry from the inside” and “inquiry from the outside”’, Academy of Management Review, 6: 385395.
    Appendix 1
    Basset, S. ( 2013 ) The Reflective Journal. London: Palgrave.
    Bolton, G. ( 2005 ) Reflective Practice. London: SAGE.
    Moon, J. ( 1999 ) Learning Journals. London: Kogan Page.
    Appendix 2
    Cunliffe, A.L. ( 2009 ) ‘Reflexivity, learning and reflexive practice’. In S. Armstrong and C. Fukami (eds), Handbook in Management Learning, Education and Development. London: SAGE, pp. 405418.
    Appendix 3
    Coghlan, D. ( 2009 ) ‘Toward a philosophy of clinical inquiry/research’, Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 45 (1): 106121.
    Schein, E.H. ( 2009 ) Helping. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
    Schein, E.H. ( 2013 ) Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
    Appendix 4
    Adler, P.A. and Adler, P. ( 1987 ) Membership Roles in Field Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
    Alvesson, M. ( 2003 ) ‘Methodology for close up studies: struggling with closeness and closure’, Higher Education, 46: 167193.
    Brannick, T. and Coghlan, D. ( 2007 ) ‘In defense of being “native”: the case for insider academic research’, Organization Research Methods, 10 (1): 5974.
    Coghlan, D. ( 2013 ) ‘Messy, iterative groping in the swampy lowlands: the challenges of inside scholar-practitioner inquiry’. In A.B. (Rami) Shani , W.A. Pasmore and R.W. Woodman (eds), Research in Organization Change and Development, Vol. 21. Brinkley: Emerald, pp. 121147.
    Coghlan, D. and Brannick, T. ( 2014 ) Doing Action Research in Your Own Organization,
    4th
    edn. London: SAGE.
    Cunliffe, A. ( 2003 ) ‘Reflexive enquiry in organizational research’, Human Relations, 56: 9871003.
    Evered, R. and Louis, M.R. ( 1981 ) ‘Alternative perspectives in the organizational sciences: “Inquiry from the inside” and “inquiry from the outside”’, Academy of Management Review, 6: 385395.
    Hollis, M. ( 2002 ) The Philosophy of Social Science, revised and updated edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    Schein, E.H ( 1987 ) The Clinical Perspective in Fieldwork. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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