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Democratic dialogue and collective learning in the context of self-managed teams


  • Maija Vähämäki

    (Department of Management and Organisation, Turku School of Economics and Business Administration, Finland)


This paper provides a longitudinal, empirical view of the multifaceted and reciprocal processes of organizational learning in a context of self-managed teams. Organizational learning is seen as a social construction between people and actions in a work setting. The notion of learning as situated (Brown & Duguid 1989, Lave& Wenger 1991, Gherardi & al. 1998, Easterby-Smith & Araujo 1999, Abma 2003) opens up the possibility for placing the focus of research on learning in the community rather than in individual learning processes. Further, in studying processes in their social context, we cannot avoid taking power relations into consideration (Contu & Willmott 2003). The study is based on an action research with a methodology close to the ‘democratic dialogue’ presented by Gustavsen (2001). This gives a ground for research into how the learning discourse developed in the case study organization over a period of 5 years, during which time the company abandoned a middle management level of hierarchy and the teams had to figure out how to work as self-managed units. This paper discusses the (re)construction of power relations and its role in organizational learning. Power relations are discussed both in vertical and horizontal work relations. A special emphasis is placed on the dialectic between managerial aims and the space for reflection on the side of employees. I argue that learning is crucial in the search for the limits for empowerment and that these limits are negotiated both in actions and speech. This study unfolds a purpose-oriented learning process, constructing an open dialogue, and describes a favourable context for creative, knowledge building communities.

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  • Maija Vähämäki, 2005. "Democratic dialogue and collective learning in the context of self-managed teams," Enterprise and Work Innovation Studies, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, IET/CICS.NOVA-Interdisciplinary Centre on Social Sciences, Faculty of Science and Technology, vol. 1(1), pages 109-115, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:ieu:journl:v:1:y:2005:i:1:p:109-115

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Alessia Contu & Hugh Willmott, 2003. "Re-Embedding Situatedness: The Importance of Power Relations in Learning Theory," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 14(3), pages 283-296, June.
    2. Dean Tjosvold & Zi‐you Yu & Chun Hui, 2004. "Team Learning from Mistakes: The Contribution of Cooperative Goals and Problem‐Solving," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(7), pages 1223-1245, November.
    3. John Seely Brown & Paul Duguid, 1991. "Organizational Learning and Communities-of-Practice: Toward a Unified View of Working, Learning, and Innovation," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 2(1), pages 40-57, February.
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