Squeezing Identity In

Do you also wonder, why the topic of identity, which gained a lot of prominence in Organization Studies, has not yet found its entry into OB teaching? At least this question appears when one has a look into the numerous OB textbooks that follow the traditional OB perspective of unchallenged managerialism and organizations as driven by economic effectiveness. Even the so-called critical OB textbooks, who call into question such a perspective, remain rather silent with regard to individual, group, and organizational identity and continue to address the established set of topics that one finds in almost every OB textbook.

Turning towards the understanding of behavior in organizations on a more individual level (actually the distinction between individual/group/organizational level is not very helpful, since they are mutually related to each other) textbooks continue to connect to the personality concept and the extensive psychological literature on personality and organizational behavior. Teaching the personality chapter, I observed that this session (or these sessions) constitute a perfect opportunity to squeeze into the course some extra-curricular knowledge on identity. Even though my students, at least in the beginning, seem to swallow the definition of personality as ‘the enduring characteristics that describe an individual’s behaviour’ (e.g. Robbins et al., 2010), they soon become suspicious when we turn towards the nature vs. nurture debate (i.e. whether personality is inscribed into our DNA or shaped through socialization in early childhood, adolescence, and perhaps even later on) and even more critical when I ask them: “Is your personality stable over time? Are you the same person talking to friends over a beer as you are talking to your lecturer or the minister / priest / mullah / rabbi…? (These questions are from Fiona Wilson’s OB textbook.). Discussing these questions students are usually quick to abandon the idea of stable and enduring characteristics defining who they are and therefore predicting their future behaviour. Reminding them that the personality concept builds on these assumptions and therefore enables us to see some things, yet, not others, I use a couple of minutes introducing the students to the concept of identity and thereby to the sociological understanding of people as being actively engaged in the reflexive project to shape their identity in organizations (usually I refer to work organizations). One relatively easy way to do this is to refer to Antoni Gidden’s quotation: “Self-identity, then, is not a set of traits or observable characteristics. It is a person’s own reflexive understanding of their biography. Self-identity has continuity—that is, it cannot easily be completely changed at will—but that continuity is only a product of the person’s reflexive beliefs about their own biography” (1991, p. 53). Departing from this quotation I address the relationship between the self and identity and the distinction between personal and social identity, and the importance of individuals biography (e.g. their upbringing, past work experiences, relationships to other people, and the turning points in their life) for their identity. Explaining these aspects to my students they get at least a bit of an understanding of the notion of identity and that this concept, although not core of the OB course, enables them to see and understand more aspects of organizational behavior.

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Article – A Mosquito in the Classroom

Audebrand, Luc K., Annie Camus, und Valérie Michaud. 2017. A Mosquito in the Classroom: Using the Cooperative Business Model to Foster Paradoxical Thinking in Management Education. Journal of Management Education 41 (2): 216–248. doi: 10.1177/1052562916682552. [http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1052562916682552]

Although the paradox perspective is gaining increasing attention among management scholars, most of us continue to struggle with addressing this challenging topic in the classroom, as it seems out of reach for many students. In this article, we describe a potentially beneficial way to approach paradoxical thinking in management education: teaching the cooperative business model. Cooperatives are user-owned, user-controlled, and user-benefitting enterprises that operate in the world’s most competitive economies and sectors of activity, demonstrating strong resilience in periods of turbulence and crisis. We argue that, despite the absence of the cooperative business model in mainstream management textbooks and curricula, this model can offer a high pedagogical value for management education in that it can foster paradoxical thinking. To support this claim, we first demonstrate how the cooperative business model is characterized by inherent paradoxes that are more salient and inescapable than they might be in conventional corporations, thus generating tension-filled material for student engagement. Second, we share experiential pedagogical tools and suggest potential learning outcomes. Finally, we discuss some practical implications for integrating cooperatives and other alternative organizations in mainstream management education curricula to help develop paradoxical thinking.

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Who determines the regime of working-time flexibility in Germany?

Offering employees a certain degree of flexibility to self-determine their working time is often seen a one way of enhancing motivation levels among the workforce. According to the classical OB understanding this will subsequently enhance performance levels, raise degrees of organizational commitment, lower absence rates etc. However, in case employers decide to introduce a flexible working-time schema, guess who defines the conditions of such a schema and therefore defines how the employees and the employer will benefit from it? Well, I guess it is not difficult to find the right answer.

The following discussion paper from the Institute of Employment Research in Germany illuminates the conditions of overtime work and flexible working hours’ arrangements in Germany.


Modern working societies face the challenge to combine the establishments’ with the employees’ needs for working-time flexibility. The authors investigate the determinants of overtime and different working hours’ arrangements using the German Linked Employer-Employee Study of the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP-LEE) and logistic regression models. The results show that employer and job characteristics are most important for determining overtime and the different working hours’ arrangements, underlining the power of employers with regard to working-time flexibility. Employee characteristics play the least important role, although employees can flexibly organize their working times and can benefit from certain arrangements, such as self-determined working hours and flexitime within a working hours account. The study provides evidence that working-time flexibility in Germany is mainly employer-oriented. However, through demographic changes and a possible lack of qualified personnel, employee-friendly arrangements are likely to gain importance.

Link to the discussion paper:


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Systems change – Big or Small?

I believe that many university teachers, who decide to teach OB in a non-functionalist way –  hence, a way that emphasizes the contested nature of organizations and that associates agency (thus, significance) to all actors in an organization – do so because they sense a need to see and probably do things differently. This does not mean that all of them have a political agenda. However, I assume that quite a few like the idea of changing the way we understand and govern work organizations. Some may be more explicit about this change and in their mind we should probably think about revolution. Others may instead work towards small-scale change, perhaps hoping that if we continue to equip our students with a critical stance and alternative perspectives this will eventually change the way they will act upon the world.

However, what is better a big bang, i.e. revolutionary transformation, or a continuous transition into a better world? The article “Systems Change—Big or Small?”, which I received from the social entrepreneurship community, argues about the value of smaller, more targeted changes that may be easier to implement yet still carry the capacity for transformation. The article is about social entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurs’ endeavour to change the world. However, the discussion of big vs. small change is also relevant for the field of critical OB, I believe.

You can read the article by following this link: https://ssir.org/articles/entry/systems_changebig_or_small

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Unhealthy Metaphors for Business and Workplaces

Following the blog entry by John W. Budd in witherwork.blogspot.dk (http://whitherwork.blogspot.dk/2018/02/business-is-not-war-jungle-machine-or.html), I would like to invite you to do a little exercise with your students.

Ask your students to read the business press (incl. the news distributed via the internet) or watch business news on TV in order to examine what metaphors are frequently used in the presentations of what happens in the business world. It will be unsurprising that many students come across war and game metaphors. Furthermore, students might be able to identify machine metaphors, which are also frequently used in business narratives.

Next you could ask your students to elaborate what such metaphors may tell us about the internal conditions of corporations, such as the conception of employees, the idea of work, the structure and culture of the firm, and the way employees should be motivated, led, and managed. One purpose of this little exercise is to show that the war, game, and machine metaphors could serve to create unhealthy conditions for workers as they promote ideas such as competition, survival of the strongest, winners and looser, battles and fights, and employees as wheels in a machine that need to function according to the system in order to avoid being replaced. In turn, notions of cooperation, mutual care and support, respect, and the importance of social relations could become undermined.

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Hungry Students Could Help Fighting Food Waste

Students are usually expected to absorb knowledge in huge quantities. No wonder that many of them end up being fairly hungry after a long day at the university. The TooGoodToGo-App (https://toogoodtogo.com/) could help students to get good food from well-established restaurants at a reasonable price. Using this opportunity, students could at the same time contribute reducing food waste because the restaurants connected to ‘toogoodtogo’ (the firm behind the app) strive to avoid throwing food into the bin at the end of a day. Hence, a win-win situation is created: Good food for students and less food waste! But hey, there is another win. Students, who get good nutrition might also be more engaged and active during their study. Thus, we as teachers could benefit as well. 😉

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Leadership and the Role of Followers

Select any OB textbook from your shelf and read the chapter(s) on leadership. You will quickly notice that the leadership research that is presented in these chapters is essentially leader-centred research. This admittedly is not a new insight. Much of the traditional and some of the so-called contemporary leadership research address leaders, their characteristics, competencies, skills, behaviour, influence and so on. Followers are usually neglected, rendered as passive, and/or depicted as the ones, who need someone to show them direction and provide guidance.

The video below is called “The first follower”. You may argue with some of what the commentator says but the video could serve as a demonstration of how important followers are for leadership.

Essentially, one may be inclined to state that they are the ones, who decide to follow another person and to accept this person to be the leader (at least for some time or in a particular situation). They are, hence, active and some may say the decisive element for our understanding of leadership. Again, this not a particularly new insight. However, many OB textbook writers seem to frequently (and somewhat systematically?) neglect the role of followers. Even the more sophisticated OB textbooks tend to fail addressing concepts such as leadership as an attribution, leadership as a credit given to one person of the group, or leadership as a function of the group, not individuals. Followers are routinely stripped of their needs, interests, motivations, and their longing for contribution, participation and development.

However, what happens to our students’ understanding of leadership, if we continue telling them that the person or the behaviour of the leader constitute the only aspects that matter, that leaders are the real movers and shakers of the world, and that consequently followers are just passive participants in the leadership. Marginalising followers renders them as less significant for our understanding of leadership and, more importantly, for the practical accomplishment of leadership. Leaders, in turn, become heroes, everything that counts, and the stuff that successful leadership is made of. So, it may be unsurprising that many (if not most) of our students want to become leaders (hence, heroes) and not followers. Moreover, assuming that they end up in a leader position, they may regard and treat followers exactly the way, the textbook has told them – human material that waits to become shaped according to the leader’s discretion.

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