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Process Based Management and the Central Role of Dialogical Collective Activity in Organizational Learning. The Case of Work Safety in the Building Industry

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    The notion of “process”, which describes the cooperation of heterogeneous practices and competences for a given output, has gained a major position in managerial practices for the last twenty years. This paper presents three ideas about organizational dynamics and processes and tests their applicability in the case of work safety improvement in a building company. The first idea is that the success of the process notion shows the central role of “conjoint” (as opposed to “common”) collective activity in organizational learning. Conjoint collective activity is dialogical (“acts speak”) and mediated by the utilization of semiotic systems (languages and technical and managerial tools). The second idea is that organizational learning is neither based on the actors’ individual subjectivity nor on the technological and objective artefacts engaged in the processes, but rather on the reflexive understanding and ongoing redesign of processes by the process actors themselves, in the frame of a reflexive inquiry, a “collective activity about collective activity” which is triggered and kept in motion by axiological judgments (process evaluation). The third idea is that the possibilities to configure processes in a given organization are multiple. The reflexive inquiry enacts a specific social, spatial and time configuration of the process, its “chronotope” in Bakhtin’s vocabulary, which plays a major role in the way actors can make sense of their collective activity and transform it. A longitudinal case study about work safety on the building yards shows that it is difficult to “control out” risk at work once designs have been established, in the frame of the “project execution” process, but it is easier to “design out” risk, when the actors of the process collectively design and redesign their collective activity, from the very first phases of a building project to the end. Therefore a major way to improve safety consists in extending the chronotope of the collective activity under consideration, overcoming the traditional separation between “design / planning” and “execution”. The conclusion summarizes the main theoretical, epistemological and practical issues involved in this research about conjoint collective activity.

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    Paper provided by ESSEC Research Center, ESSEC Business School in its series ESSEC Working Papers with number DR 07013.

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    Length: 19 pages
    Date of creation: May 2007
    Handle: RePEc:ebg:essewp:dr-07013
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