Organizational identity and sensemaking in collaborative development of technology: an ethnographic case study of "building the box"
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This study explores collaborative development of technology among distinct internal organizations of a high-technology corporation. Four research questions guided this ethnographic case study: (1) How do organizational members participate in collaborative actions in the context of a corporate strategy to collaborate? (2) How does the organizational discourse frame participants’ collaborative actions? (3) How do participants pursue their collaborative goals when they are members of previously distinct organizations? (4) How do participants’ communicative actions influence their collective sensemaking during their collaboration? Participant-observation, interviewing, and document analysis were used as methods in this study. The theory of complex adaptive systems and a sensemaking perspective of organizational action guided the interpretation of ethnographic data. Organizational identity emerged as an interpretive framework during fieldwork and was used to analyze routine events and non-routine episodic instances during one year in the collaborative development across different locations of distinct organizations within a corporate structure. Findings indicated that collaboration was influenced by participants’ sense of organizational identity and by the ambiguity of this sense of identity when participants from distinct organizations engaged in collaboration. Images of organizational others in the corporate structure, formal patterns of connections among participants, and official organizational discourse imposed constraints on participants’ collective sensemaking. The communicative function of the program manager role became one of facilitating collective sensemaking. Findings indicated that construction of a shared sense of organizational identity and the ability to facilitate this shared sense are significant aspects of collaborative development. This study contributes to the theories of organizational communication and behavior by examining the centrality of representing and negotiating identity for the process of organizing. Findings of this research suggest a synthesis among the concepts of identity, sensemaking, and complexity of social action. This study makes a methodological contribution by using complexity theory as an interpretive framework for ethnographic analysis and by exploring the epistemological parallelism between interpretive research and studies of complex adaptive systems. This work describes communicative dynamics of collaboration and has implications for organizations collaborating for the development of technological innovation.