Visualisations of Relatonics: A Tool to Support Change in the Organising of Work?

Visualisations of Relatonics: A Tool to Support Change in the Organising of Work?

Peter Johansson (Mälardalen University, Sweden), Tomas Backström (Mälardalen University, Sweden) and Marianne Döös (Stockholm University, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6134-9.ch009


This chapter is based on theorising and analysis from an ongoing research and development project exploring the use of visualisations in task-based development, specifically the potential of new types of organisational images that may support understanding about work-integrated learning. Thus, the aim of the chapter is to explore the possibilities of visualising work-integrated competence networks—here referred to as relatonics—and contribute to the understanding of how such visualisations can support efforts of organising change when organisational boundary-crossing cooperation is needed for a significant task. A conclusion is that images representing relatonic can be utilised to identify areas with a developmental need and, in this way, are a resource to make more knowledgeable interventions and enable a relatonic to emerge in certain directions.
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For many years, the issue of how to understand and lead change in organisations has frequently been addressed both in practice and in research literature (e.g. Beer et al., 1990; Kira & Forslin, 2008; Kotter, 1996; Tidd & Bessant, 2009). The challenge consists of two classic dimensions: incremental vs. transformative change, and participative vs. dictated change (Dunphy & Stace, 1990). This chapter is based on the assumption that people – leaders, managers and co-workers – act according to their understanding and conceptions of the world (Hmelo et al., 2000; Sandberg & Targama, 2007). This implies that providing new images of organisation may aid decisions and actions and improve ways of working. On the one hand, this belief is partly based on the identified problem of too frequent and disruptive reorganisations (Brunsson, 2006; Döös, 2008), and, on the other hand, the difficulties of implementing everyday incremental change (Beer et al., 2005).

Conceptions of the world are grounded in understanding and largely dependent on experiences, and in certain images coupled to one’s understanding. The importance of images has been acknowledged in, for example, organisational ethnography (Cornelissen et al., 2008; Hatch & Yanow, 2008; Ybema et al., 2009). The emergence of digital technology has brought with it new possibilities of visualising what goes on in and between organisations. The main focus of previous research has been to verbalise, i.e., to capture images in words, either in metaphors or in articulation, where knowledge is made more explicit or usable to others. For example, Weick et al. (2005) describe the “image of sensemaking” as an “activity that talks events and organizations into existence” (p. 413). Less attention has been paid to visual images and representations when it comes to analysing their contribution to organisational change and development. Cross et al. (2010) and also Gubbins and Dooley (2010) represent exceptions to this trend with their work on images based on network analyses of information technology functions in large organisations. Partly relating to this is Forsén et al.’s creation of interactive visualisations that enable identification of colleagues with the appropriate knowledge and expertise throughout an organisation (Forsén et al., 2010). It is interesting to note the potential of today’s technology to explore the issues addressed by Mintzberg and Van der Heyden (1999), who were pioneers in creating images representing how companies really work. They identified and drew four organigraphs on grounds of principle for managerial work: set, chain, hub and web.

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