The Agency of Meetings Collectively in an Organizational Setting.

This paper belongs to Thematic Session 2 of the Gothenburg Meeting Science Symposium

Martin Duffy, Dublin Institute of Technology (College of Business)
Brendan O’Rourke, Dublin Institute of Technology (College of Business)

Responding to Schwartzman’s (2015) call for a move away from the individual-centeredness of research on organizational meetings, this paper focuses on meetings collectively rather than as individual events (Duffy, 2016). Thus the study examines meetings collectively as an organizational phenomenon, rather than meetings as discrete objects across multiple organizations. The paper reflects on a bi-focal analysis of discourse data recorded in a longitudinal study of meetings in one organization. Initially grounded in a systemic process perspective (Duffy & O’Rourke, 2012, 2013) the data were analysed through a sensemaking lens (Weick, 1995), providing a ‘zoomed out’ perspective (Nicolini, 2009) on the agency of meetings collectively. The analysis focused on how an organization’s meetings contribute systemically to enactment, selection and retention (ESR) as part of organization-wide sensemaking processes. Retrospective and prehensive discourse in meetings contributed to the emergence of a Systemic Meetings Model (SMM) (Duffy & O’Rourke, 2013), held together through the agency of actors and actants (Taylor & Cooren, 1997) which constitute the primary modes of connection that enable meetings to exhibit agency collectively (Duffy, 2016).
Modes of meeting connections identified in the ‘zoomed out’ analysis become the subject of a more fine-grained or ‘zoomed in’ (Nicolini, 2009) analysis using McPhee and Zaug’s (2000) four communication flows of membership negotiation, institutional positioning, reflexive self-structuring and activity coordination. The four flows are respectively combined with immutable mobiles (Cooren, Matte, Taylor, & Vasquez, 2007), ventriloquism (Cooren, 2012), autopoiesis (Luhmann, 2006a) and decision paradox (Luhmann, 2006b), all drawn from the Communicative Constitution of Organizations (CCO) theory, to elaborate how the hybridicity of actors, actants and meetings enable the agency of meetings collectively.
Synthesising the outcomes of this bi-focal analysis leads to the creation of a Meetings as Systemic Process framework (MaSP). The MaSP framework highlights actors, material artefacts and shared processes as key modes of meetings connections. Moving beyond the linearity of conventional clock time, temporal structuring (Orlikowski & Yates, 2002) and the metronimic effects of meetings on organizations (Duffy, 2016) represent unexpected findings of agency of meetings collectively and form key components of the MaSP framework. Focusing on how meetings are used and connected (collectively) rather than what (individual) meetings are used for, enables consideration of meeting characteristics such as requisite variety (Weick, 1979) of attendees, meetings as instruments of policy, or managing meeting proliferation, to inform the potential use of meetings in organizations and their future agency collectively.
Viewing the agency of meetings collectively rather than summatively is dependent on seeing them as an integrated whole-organization resource, rather than as individual events that occur in apparent isolation of each other. The research findings both challenge and inform how future research on meetings might be conducted if they are conceptualized as a collective organizational phenomenon, contributing to a move away from but remaining parallel to the individual-centered approach to meetings research in the past. Such a collective conceptualization of meetings also has potential significance for the practice of organizational meetings, depending on the orientation practitioners choose to adopt towards their meetings.

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