Processes of Improvisation in Change Management from the Perspective of a UK Management Consultant
Smart, Deborah Caroline
Organisational improvisation is often seen as a way for corporations to be able to cope with emergent strategies (Cunha, et al, 1999) and a way to meet the challenges of modern ways of working which include agility, flexibility and responsiveness (Vera and Crossan, 2004). However, seeing improvisation as a tool that can be used to deliver desirable organisational change is placing it within a discourse of systemic consultancy techniques that are predicated on assumptions about organisational change which I argue do not reflect the everyday lived experiences of people at work. As a management consultant, I have worked with many organisations using tools and techniques in an attempt to deliver prescribed outcomes. However, these never seemed to turn out as expected, for my colleagues or myself. Through my research I have understood that organisational change is far more pluralistic and uncontrollable than is suggested by systems thinkers like Seddon (2003; 2008) because consultants or managers could never predict with certainty how change initiatives would play out. I build on Mead’s model of communication (1934) where a gesture to another evokes a similar response in the gesturer as it does the responder as part of the whole social act. In doing so I argue that improvisation is a way of describing communicative interaction between human bodies which are interdependent and therefore in relations of power with one another. As groups and individuals we become invested in and caught up in organisational games where many different groups struggle against one another in an attempt to control the game and get what they want. As these improvisational moves in the game are played, narrative themes that organise our experience are both sustained and contested at the same time. But these narrative patterns are not solely about working practices or procedures but also include wider aspects of identity such as gender and sexuality, which are interwoven in our organisational lives. Specifically I am arguing that communication is not just one body gesturing and responding to another, but one sexed and gendered body gesturing and responding to another sexed and gendered body and this affects our interactions, assumptions and understanding of what it is we are doing together. These improvisations which both create and maintain narrative themes emerge through the paradox of the rehearsed and the unrehearsed at the spontaneous moment of performance, where the anticipation of an audience’s reaction, represented by Mead’s concept of the generalised other (1934: 154), both enables and constrains one’s performance.
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