Friday, April 03, 2009


Sensemaking is "the ongoing retrospective development of plausible images that rationalize what people are doing" (Weick 2001: 460; 2005: 397). Since an organization is itself a group of people doing things together for a reason, sensemaking is of obvious importance for organization studies. What an organization organizes is the sense people make of what they are doing. This, of course, affects what they actually do, so an organization is also very much an ongoing coordination of actions.

Consider the day-to-day operations of a typical department in a modern firm. At the start of each day, members of this organization may show up at the same places (their offices) and begin, say, to make sense of their emails. They may answer some with great care and delete others without even reading them. They will file some for later, or, if they answer them right away, mentally note that they are engaging in "personal business" on "company time". This may be worth only a fleeting thought or a record in a logbook of some kind. Or it may simply be an occasion for a mildly guilty conscience. It all depends on the "images that rationalize what they are doing". These images are particular to particular organizations, and we therefore do well to study them when making sense of organizations, i.e., studying them as organization theorists.

I'm taking a (regularly scheduled) break from the regular blogging routine next week. When I get back I'm going to devote most of April to my thoughts about sensemaking. I'm going to two conferences this summer with papers that are relevant to this topic, so I want to see what I think.

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