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A Review: Structuration Theory and Sensemaking

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Organizational Communications Organizational Communications Esperanza A. Collado A Review: Sensemaking and Structuration Theory: Giddens Explored Esperanza A. Collado A Review: Sensemaking and Structuration Theory: Giddens Explored Dr. Lalaine Ocampo 11/5/2011 Dr. Lalaine Ocampo 11/5/2011 An in-depth background should form the reader’s foundation regarding the materials on hand. In the items given, considering we are discussing theories, I believe it should be enlightening at the least.

However, the lack of specifics and the vagueness of the thoughts expressed and the examples stated altogether create an obscure picture of the topics.

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The authors, and their articles for that matter, has left much to be understood as it becomes a prerequisite to know firsthand and perhaps to read for one’s self what he has read and that which is under evaluation. Fortunately, after being thrown off at the beginning, a clearer account awaits as the pages turn, as more articles are read and more sites are browsed. A Review on Sensemaking:

To start with a quote, “The activities of organizing are directed toward the establishment of a workable level of certainty.

An organization attempts to transform equivocal information into a degree of unequivocality with which it can work and to which it is accustomed. ” (Weick, K. , 1969) Karl Weick developed a theory that communicating and organizing are directed toward the reduction of equivocality of information. Information is said to be equivocal when it can be given different interpretations because it is ambiguous, conflicted, and obscure or introduces uncertainty into a situation.

When something new happens, new regulations, new technology, and so on, it relates to equivocality. Equivocality is related to something the organization has not experienced before. Equivocality means confusion and lack of understanding. Equivocality is considered as a force that influences information processing in organizations. Organization structure and internal systems determine both the amount and richness of information provided to managers. There are models that show how organizations can be designed to meet the information needs of technology, interdepartmental relations, and the environment.

One major problem for managers in communicating is the lack of clarity, not lack of data. All organizations face equivocality, and the degree of equivocality in the environment is constantly increasing… the world is becoming more and more complex. In an environment of unequivocal information (certainty), organizations can rely on established rules (assembly rules) and procedures to guide decisions and actions. In dealing with organizational issues, sensemaking requires us to look for explanations and answers in terms of how people see things rather than structures or systems.

Sensemaking suggests that organizational issues – ‘strategies’, ‘breakdowns’, ‘change’, ‘goals’, ‘plans’, ‘tasks’, ‘teams’, and so on are not things that one can find out in the world or that exist in the organization. Rather, their source is people’s way of thinking. Sensemaking literally “means the making of sense” (Weick, 1995, p. 4). It occurs when there is a shock to the organizational system that either produces uncertainty or ambiguity. Sensemaking provides a means to return a sense of stability to the organizational life world.

Key to sensemaking is the idea that organizational members make sense of disruptions to the organizing process. While this process has been variously called incongruous events (Starbuck & Milliken, 1988), interruptions (Mandler, 1984), and unmet expectations (Jablin & Kramer, 1998), there is a common recognition that sensemaking occurs when the flow of work is disrupted. It is the notion of “shock” or system disruption. The theory of sensemaking in organizations suggests that people make retrospective sense f unexpected and disruptive events through an ongoing process of action, selection, and interpretation (Weick, 1995). Sensemaking is also prospective in that sense that is made retrospectively affects future sensemaking (Weick, 1995, 2001). By recognizing sensemaking as both retrospective and prospective, sensemaking as process is also emphasized. Specifically, sensemaking is ongoing in duration, having no single point of departure and no permanent point of arrival. While some argue that sensemaking is purely cognitive (Fineman, 1996), Weick (1995) emphasizes the role of emotions in the sensemaking process.

Emotions are involved in both the commencement and outcome of sensemaking: “The reality of flows becomes most apparent when that flow is interrupted. An interruption to a flow typically induces an emotional response, which then paves the way for emotion to influence sensemaking. It is precisely because ongoing flows are subject to interruption that sensemaking is infused with feeling” (Weick, 1995). In a test of a model of emotional experiences at work, Fiebig and Kramer concluded that it is unmet expectations that served as the catalyst for emotional experiences in organizations.

The test is consistent with conclusions that sensemaking occurs in response to disruptions in organizing processes (Weick, 1995, 2001; Weick & Sutcliffe, 2001). When examining emotions and sensemaking, then, it is important to understand the relationship between the experience of emotions at work and disruptions in the organizing process. System disruptions serve as the opportunity for organizational members to extract cues from the environment that will then be used as the basis for sensemaking. Extracted cues “are simple, familiar structures that are seeds from which people develop a larger sense of what may be occurring” (Weick, 1995).

Extracted cues represent what was noticed as worthy of attention. Extracted cues, then, can provide insight into how people choose to pay attention to emotions in organizations, creating the potential to both challenge and reinforce the rationality/emotionality duality in the workplace. Weick and Snowden proposed a set of conditions, a set of useful practices, including the kinds of structures necessary to adapt to complexity successfully. a. It is important to acknowledge failure and learn from instances of it.

Both Snowden and Weick tie failure to learning – seeing things in a new way. People tend to agree more on what is going wrong than what is going right, what are called “best practice” efforts in fact rely on the ability to identify both past successes and past failures (Snowden, 2003). Given Weick and Sutcliffe’s (2001) premise that HROs (High Reliability Organization) must focus on potential catastrophic failure, such organizations constantly complete reviews and exercises that gauge their preparedness – without a fear of punishment from reporting a failure.

Focusing on failure is so important because its opposite, success, is such an emotional and fulfilling rush that it leads to hubris (Weick & Sutcliffe, 2001). A major component of sensemaking for Weick and Sutcliffe is a “preoccupation with failures rather than successes” (Weick & Sutcliffe, 2001). b. Participation and management by exception are concepts that provide an alternative to the dominant model of managerial control. While they do not use these terms directly, Weick and Snowden affirm the concepts of participation and management by exception as managerial approaches to complexity.

Those in charge of hierarchies are obligated to take control of the sudden change that complexity stimulates because that is what is expected. The idea of management is, in fact, usually understood as the engineering of social control (Tsoukas, 1994). Yet Snowden and Weick’s models directs toward developing enough trust that can empower people to participate in local complex conditions, including the right to respond instantly. If complex change can begin with small, local forces, then having the ears and eyes of observers acting on these forces follows as a strategy.

The paradox of “letting go” and remaining involved is one of the hardest complexity responses for a manager to learn. Weick and Snowden provide an original approach to management as control because they equalize control and “letting go” in importance. In this vein they embrace a classic axiom of management, namely, J. D. Thompson’s notion, in his book Organizations in Action, which contends that management is best when it limits itself to managing exceptions. The normal state of affairs is to let go; the exception is to manage.

Snowden defines complexity, which is “how patterns emerge through the interactions of many agents” (Kurtz & Snowden, 2003). Both Snowden and Weick see a non-egoistic, diverse, probing, interacting style of communication as a response to complexity. The theory of sensemaking proposed by Weick is unusual to say the least. It does not reflect very well on classical management literature, on which many managers are trained. How should managers change their roles in light of what Weick has to say?

Weick offers seven maxims, which he proposed in a tentative way: 1) Talk the walk. This is a general maxim reminding managers that meaningful words are found through action. Many attempts to walk the talk have failed, because the actors have not found the words fitting. 2) Every manager an author. Talking the walk may not be enough, the choice of words and the command of language and nuance is important as well. 3) Every manager a historian. A good decision is such that it has recognizable roots: something that explains the logical path to this decision.

At times the process may be first the decision, then the history. 4) Meetings make sense. Sense is made in meetings. People need to meet more often, and most importantly, in a way that fosters conversation. 5) Stamp in verbs. Use language that recognizes the importance and role of action. 6) Encourage shared experience. Although shared meaning is hard to attain because of differences in the organizational members’ background, sharing experience is a viable way towards a shared understanding of relevant issues.

To evoke culture is to tell stories of shared experiences. 7) Expectations are real. Take them seriously since they form the future. A Review on the Article, “Structuration Theory: Giddens Explored” “The use of sociological theories in real world policies is an important aspect to study in order to understand the intricate complexities that develop in our cities. ” (Introduction, p. 1) In concept, the aforementioned “intricate complexities” is nothing more than an ambiguous thought that neither asserts the author’s point nor necessarily support the subject.

The theory of structuration is an attempt to reconcile theoretical dichotomies of social systems such as agency and structure, subjective and objective and micro and macro perspectives. The approach does not focus on the individual actor or societal totality “but social practices ordered across space and time. ” (The Constitution of Society, p. 2) Proposed by Anthony Giddens, it is my belief that his shift of perspective to “humans (acting as) knowledgeable objects in conjunction with the social order to change their social reality” as opposed to “the ole of the human agent (being) either solely based on volunteerism or (being) too deterministic” makes for an interesting study. Giddens theory boils down to the much argued question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? The answer being, of course, that it is a never-ending cycle, as society and people exist co-dependently since there can be no social structure without people and people cannot be together without concurrently forming a social structure. The system of interaction exists as a result of the structure of the language spoken. Theory of Structuration, p. 4) I agree to the proposition of merely identifying speech as a system of interaction and the language as a structure. And never has speech been a more distinctive identifier of a person’s background than in the Philippines. In our country, speech defines the particular structure the agency belongs to and the agency identifies himself with his structure through this. Indeed, Giddens recommendation simply follows; in fact it is only common sense to conclude that “structures are universally steady.

Nevertheless, (it) could be changed mainly during the unintentional consequences of action. For example, when people begin to pay no attention to the social norms, substitute them or reproduce them in a different way. ” (Theory of Structuration, p. 4) Giddens’ exploration of the relationship between structure and agent very much depicts the specific mechanics of our society and the people in it. And while his propositions seem to be fairly obvious, stating them in detail makes it much easier to understand the co-relation between structure and agent as well as the factors and elements that affect them.

The relationship between the two becomes even more distinct because he pursued his idea to scrutinize the behavior of agents and its effect on society and vice versa. Action, I believe, is the core element that distinguishes and unites the two: structure and agent. While governed by external influences as well as internal motivations, they just as equally affect both the said influences and ultimately impact the agent and structure. “The decision to act, either consciously or not, creates changes within the agency and to the structure that one has influence on. (Anthony Giddens: The Last Modernist, pg. 182) Weick (1995) develops sensemaking as a tool to help understand how a new order is defined or explained to render organization plausible. He outlines seven elements of sensemaking, of which retrospective as a primary source of meaning is crucial to this discussion (Weick 2001). His concept that a sequence of events can be momentarily held in stasis and then be used to guide action lends itself very well to the discussion of organizations as the interaction of agency and structure (Giddens 1979).

Individual action, when viewed as sensemaking, illustrates an attempt to create order (Weick 1995). Formulating identity is also an attempt to contextualize organization activity and symbols when the current framework does not appear plausible (Weick, Sutcliffe et al. 2005). Structuration and sensemaking are two competing ways to view the social world. Structuration theory provides an understanding of human work as social interaction within that organizational culture, mediated by artifacts such as tools, language, rules and procedures, and open to change.

An organization provides multiple opportunities for sensemaking. It involves understanding different people; is subject to high levels of uncertainty and is provided under significant time constraints. The collaborative nature of work in an organization lends itself to the application of sensemaking and structuration theories. In conclusion, it could not be said any better than this: “At a micro level, we cannot choose our parents but have the choice to have children. The relationships we create are in constant interaction and are controlled by the individuals themselves.

On the other hand, we are not capable of organizing as a society without some form of state and social organizations. At this macro level, we are held together by a common pattern of survival which is structured by a set of determined standards such as state laws. The two perspectives could not be separated. Otherwise, it will be difficult to understand them apart. This shared bond between individuals and exterior forces brings Giddens theory of structuration together. ” (Theory of Structuration, p. 6) References: Internet http://www. utwente. l/cw/theorieenoverzicht/Theory%20clusters/Organizational%20Communication http://www. ecomerc. com/ http://www. fisherhouse. com/ http://mansci. highwire. org http://www. scribd. com/doc/51140006/Sensemaking http://www. knowledgeboard. com/library/cynefin. http://xenia. media. mit. edu/~brooks/storybiz/kurtz. pdf http://resources. metapress. com/pdf-preview. axd? code=p01p16333204757n&size=largest http://www. cognitive-edge. com/ceresources/articles/51_Browning_Boudes_on_Weick_and_Snowden. pdf http://hum. sagepub. com/content/ Publications Dougherty, Debbie S. Drumheller, Kristina (2006). Communication Studies Magazine. Central States Communication Association. Fiebig, G. V. & Kramer, M. W. (1998). A Framework for the Study of Emotions in Organizational Contexts. Management Communication Quarterly, 11, 536–572. Fineman,S. (1996). Emotion and Organizing. Handbook of Organization Studies. Giddens, The Constitution of Society, 1984. Jablin F. M. & Kramer, M. W. (1998). Communication Related Sense Making and Adjustment During Job Transfers. Management Communication Quarterly, 12, 155-182. Kurtz, C. F. ; Snowden, D. J.

The New Dynamics of Strategy: Sense-making in a Complex and Complicated World. IBM SYSTEMS JOURNAL, VOL 42, NO 3, 2003. Mandler, G. (1984). Mind and Body: Psychology of Emotion and Stress. New York: Norton. Behavioral Sciences Book Club selection, 1985. Japanese edition: Seishin Shobo Publishers, 1987. Mestrovic, Anthony Giddens: The Last Modernist, 1998. Olson and Yahia, Structuration Theory: Giddens Explored, 2006. Snowden, D. J. (2000). “Cynefin, a sense of time and place: An Ecological Approach To Sense Making And Learning In Formal Organizations,” Proceedings of KMAC, Starbuck, W.

H. and Milliken, F. J. (1988) Executives’ Perceptual Filters: What They Notice And How They Make Sense. In D. Hambrick (Ed. ), The Executive Effect: Concepts and Methods for StudyingTop Managers. Greenwich: JAI Press. Weick, K. (1969). The Social Psychology of Organizing. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. WEick, K. (1995). Sensemaking in Organizations (Foundations for Organizational Science). A Sage Publications series. Weick, K. E. and Sutcliffe, K. M. (2001). Managing the Unexpected: Assuring high performance in an age of complexity, San Francisco, CA.

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A Review: Structuration Theory and Sensemaking. (2019, May 02). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/a-review-structuration-theory-and-sensemaking-35/

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