Sensemaking in Meetings - Collaborative Construction of Meaning and Decisions through Epistemic Authority

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School of Business | Doctoral thesis (article-based)
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Aalto University publication series DOCTORAL DISSERTATIONS, 185/2016
Meetings are important in knowledge-intensive organizations where opportunities for sharing knowledge are the essence of daily work. Meetings are also the de facto event required in almost all organizations and businesses to make decisions. This study examines sensemaking in meetings of software engineers in an IT & telecommunications company. It provides an explanation of how sensemaking serves as a driver for decision making. The identities of the participant also come into play as they use their epistemic authority to influence the evolving meanings and decisions. By incorporating epistemic authority this study draws light on the real-time management of power in professional meetings. The study examines how language specifically is used as a resource for the construction of sensemaking. Conversation Analysis (CA) is used as a method to identify those interactions which characterize how sensemaking and epistemics are played out in organizations. The position taken in this study that sensemaking, decision making and epistemic authority are interactionally accomplished social activities, and the analysis demonstrates how they become consequential for the organizational activities. CA also makes it possible to show how these notions relate to decision making. Majority of existing research focuses on managerial practices or the chairperson’s role in meetings. This study adds to the existing literature on sensemaking and decision making by integrating the notion of epistemic authority as a factor in the accomplishment of these activities among professional peers. The data is comprised of video recordings of five authentic meetings among technical professionals in the area of system software development working in a large multinational company. The findings draw light on the collaborativeness of sensemaking. Firstly, the analysis shows that the practices through which the participants pursue their individual agendas tend to constrain the collaborativeness of sensemaking and they lead to long-winded discussion or argumentation, whereas the practices through which the participants pursue mutual sharing of knowledge lead to collaborative acts of sensemaking. Additionally, the closing phase of each topical discussion in the meetings formed a transition phase in which the past discussion is integrated with future actions, and this becomes labelled as decision. Sensemaking precedes as well as follows decision making at the point of discussion in which collaborative acknowledgement is expressed.
Thesis advisor
Ventola, Eija, Aalto University, Department of Management Studies, Finland
meetings, interaction, sensemaking, decision making, epistemic authority, professional talk
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