The paper now turns to the case study of collaboration in one innovative project in a production company. Following the framework outlined
above, collaboration in the project is considered as a set of language
games between different actors, who have different positions, intentions and interests. The project, including its content and organization,
is created, shaped and negotiated through these games. The project
is thus a continuous accomplishment where understanding between
the actors becomes embedded in the emergence of tacit rules for
using the words, methods, and procedures of the project. The key
question is whether these rules are capable of creating the desired
change. The actors in the project participate in collaboration from their
own concepts, methods, and procedures. The consultants use concepts, methods, and techniques from their consulting backgrounds.
The participants from the company participate from their background
in language games dominated by rules that resemble those of disciplinary power. This is expressed in a sharp division of labour, centralization of control, specialized and repetitive work, and a classic symbol of disciplinary power, a bell, regulates and controls labour time,
lunch and coffee breaks. This is the culture in the company when the
case study begins. At this point, the old managing director has retired
and a new top management group has taken over.
THE SECOND MEETING IN THE PROJECT
This meeting takes place on May 31, 2001, and is my first encounter
as researcher/observant with the project. The consulting methods
applied in this meeting are psychological contract, a questionnaire,
and group work in relation to three problem areas identified at the first
project meeting: namely, efficiency, decision authority, and collaboration (From the agenda of the meeting of May 31, 2001).
This contract comprises only the project participants. The two consultants (referred to here as primary and second), the project manager
and I are not part of the contract. The process is guided by the second
consultant and formulated by having each participant present a number of points that he/she wants to be part of the contract. These points
are identified by means of a schema containing three questions. The
result is a number of written points, which are to be transcribed and
signed by the participants at one of the following meetings. The psychological contract is illustrated in Table 2.
Table 1 - Overview of the Project
Methods and Tools
The project begins
- December 2001
Focus on relevant themes and problems
Preliminary goal is formulated
Learning- and reflection room
Relation and construction
The project group
Change in project design
– April 2002
Change in the organization of the project
Work is decentralized to the subgroups
The concept “values” emerges
The project group
The value formulation phase
– October 2002
Different drafts of the value premises are formulated
at the management level and in departments
These are integrated into one set of value premises
covering the whole organization. These activities
take place at Seminars 1, 2, and 3
The set of value premises is approved by the steering committee
Relation and construction
All employees and managers participate in seminar 1
In seminar 2 and 3 representatives participate
Implementation of value premises
– February 2003
Seminars-4 and -5 formulate employee and management tasks
The consultants are given a more peripheral position in the project.
The value premises
managers and employees
Table 2 - Psychological Contract†
We feel, as participants, that work is most beneficial if behaviour is characterized by:
- openness, - motivation,
- safety, - dialogue,
- honesty, - respect,
- humour, - willingness to cooperate,
- creativity, - efficiency,
- constructive criticism, - optimism
It helps if it is manifested as follows: (examples)
- no questions are stupid, - people are active,
- there is room for asking questions, - people are equal,
- people say what they mean and feel, - an understandable language is used,
- people accept/understand others’ viewpoints, - people are disciplined,
- there is an open exchange of ideas, - there is room for humour,
- work is characterized by helpfulness, - there is room for both small and big problems
We feel, on the contrary, that is it is de-motivating if behaviour is characterized as follows:
- people have a negative attitude - company roles
- people are quiet/silent - a language that people don’t understand
- people are non-informative - bad moods
- knowledge is not shared - stress
- work is characterized by special interests
- people will not listen
†: Psychological contract signed at the project meeting of June 28, 2001
The schema is a methodology to assist participants in systematising
their thoughts about what should characterize project collaboration. It
is signed off at a project meeting on June 28, 2001. The contract, at
first glance, appears to be innocent and rather commonplace in the
sense that none of the points are especially controversial. They are of
a very general character and almost everybody can agree with them.
This begs the question as to what this method may be used for? On
the other hand, the psychological contract is something that is signed
by project participants; it may be held against them and this is exactly
what happens later on.
A discussion of the language applied in the session follows the presentation. In this situation the participants seek a language that everybody can understand. A great deal of uncertainty is expressed in this
discussion where participants seek answers on what the project is all
about and what is required from them. None-the-less the contract is
signed at the next meeting in the project group.
After the formulation of the psychological contract, the primary consultant presents some results from a questionnaire, a reflection instrument, which had been completed by the participants. Some extracts
from this “reflection instrument” are illustrative:
Reflection instrument—a method to define learning and development needs in companies, organizations, and sub-organizations.
The following schema focuses on a number of relations, which are significant for how
organizations (companies) work. This includes how they implement and learn from new
initiatives. The instrument focuses on relations that illuminate “THE COMPANY” as an
overall system. Secondly, the instrument focuses on single functions and sub-functions.
Both managers and employees may use the reflection instrument to think about and talk
about how their organization (company) works and how their own function or sub-function works, and where there is a need for learning and development.
(Excerpts from presentation of the reflection instrument).
The reflection instrument considers the company as a system with different sub-systems that contribute to the general system’s mode of
behaviour. The questionnaire contains 45 questions, where participants indicate if they “agree” or “disagree”. The questionnaire contains
a clear perception of what the best company should be—a company
characterized by written visions, purposes, goals, and plans; a company where people know and accept their roles and where people are
dedicated to fulfilling these roles; and, a company where people reflect
and evaluate systematically.
The reflection instrument is very systematic and theoretical—very
rationalistic and functionalistic. There is no room here for specific or
particularistic life forms and identities. And it is probable that the reflection instrument is a reminder for some people of a context where they
might not have had great success—the schoolroom. Five or six of the
project participants are unskilled workers while the rest of them are
either skilled workers or office workers. The project’s emphasis on systematic and theoretical reflection, the skills of reading and writing and
the skills of presenting view points in open discussion are in any case
very much opposed to who the project participants are.
At the meeting, the primary consultant presents some results from his
investigation (see Table 3).
The company actually works very well according to the premises in the
questionnaire. The scores are high on the agree-indicator with the
exception of the point on competence. But this conclusion doesn’t fit
the consultants’ agenda. They need the questionnaire to show something else. The primary consultant explains, in any case, that the
results mirror very different attitudes. He presents the following overhead:
The culture is composed of many different subcultures. The picture is very differentiated
with regard to:
Basic attitudes and motivation
The energy and will for development and change (willingness to change)
The amount and quality of interaction among the departments now
The role of single departments in relation to totality (sub-optimizing)
The strategy’s impact in relation to the whole company
The need for change activities.
(Observations from meeting May 31, 2001).
This overhead is commented on by some of the participants. They
appear confused with some suggesting that the results depend very
much on a single employee’s knowledge, interest, location, and function. One participant suggests that this is not written in a language that
everybody understands. There is also a long discussion on what strategy is and how it should be understood. It is argued that the company
has excellent employees who do their job; however, they don’t know
the strategy when asked about it (observations from the meeting May
This situation mirrors significant differences in the language games of
consultants and participants. Dialogue between the two is somewhat
strained. The project’s language is based on the consultants’ premises and is remote from the language games of everyday life in the company. Relations of power are, however, in favour of the consultants.
This should be seen in a historical perspective as the project is initiated and supported from the top. The learning project is, in this sense,
legitimate because top support is the only legitimacy that the project
requires; this is the way things have always worked in the company.
Further, one of the two top managers is himself a key player in the project as he is the project manager. It follows that the consultants are
perceived to have legitimate authority. Further, this is the first time that
participants have participated in a change process. They have no
experience and no theoretical knowledge of organizational change.
For them, four people are experts: the consultants, the project manager, and the author of this paper, the researcher/observant.
Table 3 - Questionnaire Results†
†: Based on the primary consultant’s presentation on May 31, 2001
The consultants are in the position to draw conclusions, while participants are subjected to the consultants’ language games. This situation
is the opposite of the project’s intentions, which states that the project
needs to be employee driven. In contrast, participants are pacified and
subjected to a very abstract and theoretical change discourse. Reactions of participants in the discussions are striking. At times situations
are characterized by almost complete and utter silence. From the 13
participants that are present, 5 don’t say anything at all during the 7-8
hours that the meeting lasts. Only about 3-4 people say something
generally during the day. Most participants prefer to remain silent during the discussions.
After the presentation of the questionnaire results, participants are
organized in three cross-functional groups that work with the three
identified development areas: efficiency, decision authority, and collaboration. It is organized around four points:
definition of content;
examples from everyday life;
relevance in relation to the project on organizational learning;
relevance in relation to strategy (observations from the meeting May
After this group work, the results are presented on paper plates in the
sequence: group 1, group 2, and group 3. The presentation from group
2 is presented below:
Efficiency—Common for all:
Attitudes and cultures.
Optimise relevant information
More information between departments and shifts
Change the culture to one big family. Departments are like independent companies—which feather their own nests
Improve in receiving constructive criticism/good ideas
Delegate more authority to individuals (group leaders), so that action/production
doesn’t stall or get held up.
The implications are major for the project, because the implications are major in
relation to strategy.
Employees are more motivated if they are appreciated and valued.
(Group 2’s presentation at the meeting May 31, 2001)
Group 2’s presentation is different from the other groups’ presentations
in that the two other groups’ presentations are more detailed and concrete. One example from group 3’s work is provided below:
1.a. Trust between leader and employee (motivate, appreciate, and support, if one
does something on his/her own initiative). Delegation of authority to employees. Better
planning; fewer ad-hoc solutions; less paper flow.
1.b. Rationalization: for example, we haven’t registered time on products where we
have known it for the last 25 years.
2.a. No reason for waiting for clarification from the manager when one may find a solution himself (when the manager is not present).
2.b. Corrections on drawings are not carried through despite the same errors happening over and over again.
2.c. Understand internal consequences when raw material specifications are changed
and such like.
2.d. Lack of resources to solve existing problems that emerge because of tense situations – Thereby problems continue to exist.
(From Group 3’s presentation at meeting on May 31, 2001)
During group work, the primary consultant gave some hints to group 2
on how to solve the task. They were instructed to forget about the
details and to look at things from above. During the presentations, the
primary consultant emphasises exactly this difference between group
2’s work and the other two groups’ work in implying that group 2’s
approach is the right way to go about solving the task. Group 2 looked
at things from above while the two other groups had concentrated too
much on the details. The primary consultant characterizes group 2’s
work as a total Organization Development (OD) project. After the presentations and the comments from the primary consultant there is a
deep silence for some seconds in the room. A tense situation emerges
where the primary consultant practically yells at the participants. One
person is the target for his yelling, the middle manager in the project
group—the situation is clearly out of hand.
The project manager decides to intervene at this point in time. He
states that discussions should not go into such great detail as, for
example, the coordination of the purchases of toilet paper. The participants have to look at things from above. After this intervention there is
again deep silence for some seconds and this is followed by expressions of deep, deep frustration. Several participants say that their work
has been wasted. The primary consultant asks if the participants agree
to work after group 2’s project. The participants agree that they should
do that (observations from meeting May 31, 2001).
This is another example of a situation that doesn’t work according to
the intentions of the project. The primary consultant presses forward a
particular conclusion, one not justified by the three groups’ presentations. Actually, I liked group 3’s presentation better because there were
more concrete examples, descriptions of everyday life problems. They,
however, put it into their language, not consultant language, and this is
probably the primary consultant’s main problem. He is better off with a
more abstract and theoretical language, one that is more consistent
with his competence. As a consequence of the uneven distribution of
power, the total OD-project (Group 2) becomes the conclusion; one
that was planned in advance and one that the consultants wanted to
accomplish. But this conclusion is one which fits the consultants’ language games, not the employees’ language games.
The dynamics here are very interesting. The group work is designed to
try to involve participants but the participants are simply incapable of
working in the ways expected. The end result is that the work of group 1
and group 3 is set aside, while group 2’s project is what the consultants
want, the total OD-project. And the learning from this situation is also
imprinted in the participants afterwards. The participants have learned
the right result, notwithstanding the fact that they don’t understand it.
Interviewer: Could you describe your impression of the process so far?
Project participant: We were very confused in the beginning. We didn’t know what this
was all about. We focused too much on details and we needed to look at things from
above. We focused on our problems. We didn’t focus on the totality. But as time went by,
and we have something to relate too, we have improved in looking at the totality. And
until the point—where we described the problem—Ah, now we got this far. Then we were
divided in groups and we needed to become more concrete again. Now I am confused
again. I don’t think that I have the knowledge to find out what I should do.
Interviewer: How did you feel after the first meetings? What did you think about it?
Project participant: I was a little bit frustrated. There was nothing concrete to relate to,
and sometimes I thought that I had misunderstood the whole thing. It seems confusing
and a little bit too big compared to my expectations.
Interviewer: What were your expectations?
Project participant: I don’t know. We didn’t expect anything, because it came suddenly,
you know. Maybe I expected that we had to think about it on our level. You know, how
may we improve collaboration in our department? But now it is higher up, and it is
between departments. It seems very big now. We don’t know all the problems and we
are not supposed to either.
In any case this situation is now problematic. The next meeting begins
with a discussion of what had happened. This discussion is an open
talk about what went wrong at the meeting on May 31. More specifically, some participants express their frustrations about the May meeting. They request more time and help. In the end the project manager
corrects or reprimands the primary consultant whom he felt was too
hard on the project group. The project manager also states that it was
not appropriate to focus on the differences between the three groups
(minutes from the meeting June 28, 2001).
CHANGE IN PROJECT DESIGN
The discussion, however, does not lead to basic changes in the way
that the project is designed. The diagnosis of the problems emanating
from the May meeting suggests that project participants need more
time and some assistance. Yet, no question marks are raised on the
basic organization of the project including the intervention methods
applied. Nor are objections considered against the abstract level of
language and methods. Therefore, the distance between the language
games of the project and the language games of the everyday working
life of the participants remains and is reproduced during two learning
seminars in September and November. The results of these learning
seminars are dissatisfactory for both the consultants and the project
manager. The project manager thinks that there are two problems in
the project. Firstly, the group needs to be clearer about its own role in
the company; and secondly, the group needs to commit itself 100 % to
the project. The project group needs to own the project. Additionally,
the project manager wants feedback on his own role as a project manager. The consultants, the project manager, and I have a meeting on
December 11 where these problems are on the agenda.
At this meeting, the project manager describes the problems as follows: The project participants do not have the overview, they don’t take
responsibility, there is no openness in the group, and project participants do not take ownership of the project. The project is considered
as the top management’s project according to the project manager.
There is a We-and-Them attitude to the project. One of the central
goals of the project is to create a We-attitude across hierarchical levels. The primary consultant comments on these descriptions. He
agrees with the project manager that the participants have not taken
responsibility for and ownership of the project. Another problem is also
discussed—that the group seems to be very dependent on the project
This is another example of how problems are constructed as participant problems—and not intervention problems. Participants are constructed as people who will “not” take ownership and responsibility—
also as people who are “not” open. The interventions are, however,
also discussed and some alternatives are put forward. The results of
the meeting are that the project manager and the consultants should
support the work in the subgroups, and that the participants should
have more responsibility with regard to controlling meetings and seminars (minutes from meeting December 11, 2001). A critique of methods, concepts and techniques are embedded in these suggestions.
The change discourse is also changed on some points, but these
changes are marginal. The basic change discourse is not reconsidered.
These changes are implemented at the project group meeting of
December 19, 2001. The work in the subgroups has stalled, and project participants actually request help (according to interview transcripts). This is one part of the problem. The second part is that the
participants are very uncertain about whether their suggestions represent what employees in the company generally want. Therefore, the
group wants to conduct interviews in the company. Two themes run
through the first part of the meeting. The first relates to the relevance
of conducting interviews and the second debates whether the organization into three groups is appropriate (observations from meeting
December 19, 2001).
At one point, the project manager interrupts the discussions about
these themes. In this connection he presents the table “social styles”
(see Table 4) that had been created during a personality course
which project participants attended.
Table 4 - Social Styles†
X X X
XX X X
†: Results of a personality test presented at the meeting of December 19, 2001
This table illustrates the distribution of “personalities” amongst four
fields. The test classifies people according to whether they are “ask” or
“tell” oriented in the way that they approach others and whether they
respond in a “task” or “person” oriented way. The combinations of
these classifications result in four categories: analytical, driver, amiable, and expressive. These four categories can be further subdivided
to indicate if people are analytic analytical, driver analytical, and so
The project participants are given an identity, and a name for this identity, in this intervention. They are constructed as either analytical, driver, amiable, or expressive. “Social styles” thus becomes a very powerful instrument when applied to the project participants. In this case the
project group is categorized as a group of analytics. Analytics are characterized as follows:
seeks to minimize the risk of doing anything wrong;
loves to work with details;
works best when problems are solved, and when he/she feels that he/she knows
approaches problems with facts and logic;
accepts new ideas when he/she is sure that they are well documented and consistent with needs;
tries out known ideas and procedures before trying something new and untested;
is careful and alert towards other people—he/she doesn’t engage before he/she
feels safe in regard to others’ proposals;
may be perceived as cold, unsympathetic and very business oriented;
may be considered hesitating and slow because of his/her carefulness.
Advices for analytics:
change the pace and way of solving tasks—be more willing to compromise;
run more risks or find shortcuts and make more decisions based on intuition, when
take the initiative and act independently when requested.
(Appendix presented at the meeting of December 19, 2001).
The personality test is a very powerful instrument. Through it, employees are given identities, which are described in concepts and characteristics. Compared to the consultants’ tools and methods, this tool is
far more efficient. The discussion takes another path when the table is
presented. The table has an important effect in making the participants
realize that they should take more chances, trust their own judgements, and take more responsibility for the project. This effect mirrors
the fact that the participants can actually use this instrument. They are
able to construct themselves through such instruments.
This is a turning point; the first part of the operation of changing the
course of the project has just occurred. The other part of the operation
is that the project manager needs to approach the groups and act in a
more supervisory role for them. The project manager begins this operation by presenting a “preliminary status from the project manager”.
Three problems are mentioned here. Firstly, the groups do not keep
the psychological contract. They are not open and sometimes it
appears as if they do not want to collaborate. Secondly, participants
have been left alone in the work in the subgroups. Finally, the groups
have called for assistance from neither the project manager nor other
resource people in the organization (observations from meeting
December 19, 2001). The following discussion centres on this last
In the discussion, the primary consultant asks the participants if they
see a project manager or a top manager. The answer is that the participants see a supervisor. The following question is why participants
haven’t benefited from the project manager’s competence. The answer
is that the participants haven’t thought of it (observations from meeting
December 19. 2001). There is a nice contrast here. A distance is
marked between the participants and the project manager. This is the
We-and-Them attitude. But it is interesting to see how this problem has
emerged. Some of the participants emphasize that fear has nothing to
do with the fact that they have not called for the project manager’s
assistance. They simply haven’t thought of it.
The contrast is that the primary consultant seeks to construct the problem in terms of fear—but in my opinion, the problem is caused by identity. The participants simply don’t feel that they are part of the same
group as the top manager. As some participants stated: “We haven’t
even thought of it” or “it is simply not in us”. The project manager is one
of “them”, not one of us. Participants want to know more before they
approach the project manager. Otherwise, the participants remain
insecure. Ironically, the project manager and other resource people,
who also feel the need to get involved, have been available for the participants; yet no contacts were made. This also mirrors the culture in
the company, which has been controlled in a top-down fashion, while
the project is an attempt to organize a bottom-up process.
THE EMERGENCE OF VALUES
After the meeting of December 19, work continues in the three subgroups. One of the outcomes of this meeting is that both consultants
and the project manager begin to participate in the meetings in the
subgroups. This influences the outcomes of these meetings in the
sense that goals and processes are more “professionally” described.
Thus, the change discourse influences the formulation of goals and
how possibly to reach them. But there is no doubt that much written
output from these meetings is simply copied from what the consultants
bring with them to the meetings. Consultant language, therefore,
becomes even more dominant while the participants remain generally
In any case, shortly after this change in project design the concept of
“values” emerges. This concept emerges in connection with the work
of group 3—the collaboration group. Its emergence is described as the
result of a process where group 3 had started working with concrete
examples from everyday life with respect to authority and collaboration.
to have the right to follow up problems to their source;
to be allowed to return incorrect or substandard items;
to expect quick decisions from superiors;
to change the composition of inventory and to be responsible afterwards;
to modify a component if this is not done by office workers;
to plan one’s own work as long as delivery times are adhered to;
to refuse orders from customers, if they don’t pay;
to gain influence with regard to major changes.
employees are not trusted; for example, the use of the bell;
a better, clearer and safer method of payment;
collaboration problems if people are members of different unions;
top-down management does not facilitate collaboration;
agreements are not kept;
it is hard to borrow people from other departments;
errors on drawings are not being corrected;
computer screens for printing drawings are missing in the production department;
it takes too long before questions are answered;
there are not enough resources for paperwork; for example, to finish export papers;
lack of understanding for space problems in production, inventory, and development;
managers are under stress;
managers do not inform.
These examples are discussed at a meeting on January 16, 2002.
These discussions lead to a change in how this group approaches its
“After long discussions the participants agreed that they needed another problem (definition). They agreed that this could be “values for management” and as sub-points: values for management, values for informing middle managers, values for employees, for
(Minutes from meeting in group-3, January 16, 2002).
Value-based collaboration emerges in this group—but, significantly,
this is also by means of support from the project manager. This is an
important change because “values” from this point onwards becomes
the key point around which the whole project becomes (re) organized.
As an outcome to a meeting on January 23, 2002, Group 3 proposes
that values need to be clarified for the following:
(Minutes from meeting January 23, 2002).
This proposal is put forward at a further meeting in the project group
on January 29. From this point in time onwards “values” becomes the
main content of the project. At the meeting on January 29 the project
manager presents a table that gives the impression of a complete project—with the concrete actions proposed mainly under the heading
“values”. These actions include value clarification in regard to management, work, collaboration, and meetings. The other concrete
actions proposed are less significant. There is little doubt that the overall goal of the project has been (re) constructed at this point in time—
and this goal is to introduce value-based collaboration.
It is mainly the project manager, in conjunction with the consultants,
who constructs this goal. There is no evidence that the participants
actually understand very much about what has been going on. The
project, therefore, is not really theirs; they have approved the project
and in this way given the process a form of legitimacy, but it is not
theirs in the sense that it doesn’t match up to the language games of
their everyday life in the company.
A plan for clarifying and stating these values is formulated during the
spring of 2002. This plan includes the following elements:
information meetings in all departments;
seminar 1: all departments work with fields of construction and
fields of relation;
seminar 2: representatives from departments work out a proposal
for a description of the value premises for the employees;
seminar 3: representatives from departments and managers work out
a common proposal for a description of the common value premises;
the value premises are written down and approved.
These elements comprise a specific procedure, one that is implemented under the close supervision and surveillance of the consultants.
Seminar 1 takes place in the departments, but it is not carried out in a
cross-functional fashion as it follows extant hierarchical and departmental structures. It is a seminar where smaller groups in the departments work from a table that describes fields of construction and fields
of relation as in Table 5.
After working in smaller groups, these groups then meet and work out
a common proposal. Seven employee proposals and one management
proposal are produced during seminar 1, with the final task in seminar
1 being to appoint representatives to participate in seminar 2.
In seminar 2, representatives for the employees meet to work out a
common or general employee proposal from the seven employee proposals. This seminar also ends with the appointment of employee representatives to negotiate the final proposal. Seminar 2 is cross-functionally organized but otherwise the organization is the same. The
tools and pedagogical methods are the same. In seminar 3 the final
proposal is negotiated between managers and employees.
In the seminars, the consultants use concepts and methods that have
been used throughout the project. The problems are also the same
and again the participants are forced to speak in a manner that they
quite simply are not used to. This conclusion comprises both managers and employees. The language used in the project at this point in
time is basically the same as it was in the beginning.
The actors responsible for the value formulation phase are the project
group and the consultants. All information regarding work in seminars
1, 2 and 3 is signed off as if the information comes from the project
group; but it is clearly consultant language all the way through. There
is one interesting observation worth noting in regard to the minutes
written down after the first seminar. According to these minutes the
process is absolutely the same in 6 out of 7 departments—the descriptions of the processes are, in other words, simply copies.
Further, the value formulation procedure reproduces basic distinctions
between managers and employees. That is, it reproduces the We-and-Them distinction. As such, seminar 3 may be characterized as a negotiation process concerning things like working hours, work environment, quality, involvement, and authority (observations from seminar 3). Wage issues would also have been part of the negotiation if it
hadn’t been ruled out. When seminar 1 begins, for example, the first
issue discussed in the production department is wages.
Table 5 - Investigation Fields in the Reflection Room†
Fields of construction
Fields of relation
— calling in for the meeting;
— the primary objective of the meeting;
— the agenda;
— the material;
— the room;
— management and roles;
— the groups’ and the individuals’ preparations for the meeting;
†: Table used by the consultants in seminar 1
Interviewer: What do you think about the project?
Employee: It is bull… .
Interviewer: Why? Was this your attitude when it started or is it your attitude now?
Employee: I have the same attitude now as I had in the beginning. The purpose of the
project is making the company work in a better manner and to improve being in the company. But the managers are those, who gain the benefits. And I think that no matter what
you do, it will always be the managers who gain the benefits. Some of the issues that
came up in our department were not really big issues. They will not talk about those
issues that are big problems in our department.
Interviewer: And what is that?
Employee: It is the paycheck. We made one of the consultants completely confused at
the first meeting in our department. She almost cried at one point because we didn’t
think that you could take that part or another important part out of organizational learning. It doesn’t need to be money. There are lots of other things, which are influential.
Interviewer: Does this mean that this project doesn’t have much value because it doesn’t allow one to speak of wages and the work environment?
Employee: Yes, I think that this is the general attitude in our department.
Interviewer: Is it the general attitude?
Employee: Yes, it is clearly the majority who think like that.
Interviewer: In regard to the project? There have been some meetings. Could you tell
me about them?
Employee: We were divided in groups. Then we had to put forward the positive and negative things. However, it was like that the negative stuff didn’t belong in that forum. They
were not satisfied with it. It is of course something about the wages. Wages are always
part of it. I can see that it is not important here. Of course it is always nice to have another 15kr. an hour. But you know that it is unrealistic. Then all the environmental issues
came up and the slow case processing. We were dissatisfied with that too. Then we
were told that the environmental issues belonged in the security committee, the wage
issue belonged to collective bargaining. We were also dissatisfied that we sometimes
lacked some tools. These issues belonged in the work committee. Then, what is left?
Thus, the process towards value-based collaboration doesn’t
change the basic issues of interest in the production company.
These basic issues are part of the dominating language games in
the production company. They resemble the issues of the traditional production plant ruled through disciplinary means of surveillance—issues that are steeped in working life identities and life
forms. However, the dominant change discourse seeks to rule out of
discussion precisely these basic issues. The consultants have a
hard time instructing the employees that these issues should not be
part of the discussions.
The change discourse is again in sharp contrast to the language
games of everyday life—which also means that the end result is somewhat disconnected from everyday life. Notwithstanding this fact, the
value premises are written and approved in October 2002—exhibiting
an almost “religious” flair:
You are a part of the team through what you do. Thereby you are a part of the company’s strength. Your energy, your motivation for learning something new, and your sense
of collaboration are important means by which, together, we can shape the future and
be ready to change and adapt to ensure the development of our work place.
We are a customer-oriented company.
Quality is important for us.
We respect man as a whole.
We work to ensure the company’s future.
We are motivated by our work place.
We are one team.
(The value premises in the company).
This is the finishing artistic coating to a language that is somewhat overly affirmative and glossy in comparison to the everyday language of the
participants. Nor does it become any better afterwards. Two seminars
take place after these value premises have been approved. These seminars seek to translate values into concrete actions and are also designed
and supervised by the two consultants. It is organized in the way that
managers and employees will describe a management task and an
employee task. The end result here appears almost meaningless. The
only difference from early seminars is the emphasis on “I will”. The result
appears almost like a confession of faith. Some examples are illustrative:
I want to participate in planning work hours;
I will state what I mean clearly and request feedback;
I will respect my colleagues’ work and will always do my best;
I will contribute positively to the company’s competitiveness;
I will contribute so that processes can be rationalized.
I will ensure business development, including a positive development of efficiency
with reference to the organization’s wish for greater degrees of freedom/benefits;
I will act according to the value premises;
I will handle conflicts;
I will develop/maintain an organization that is customer-oriented;
I will delegate responsibility and authority;
I will stick to the course and stay on the road towards it.
(Examples from the formulation of the employee and management tasks).
These values might be considered empty because they have little to do
with everyday working life—they are far too general. The values may,
however, also have serious consequences because they can be used
for practically anything. The consequences of value-based collaboration are, amongst others, discussed in seminar 3. All agree that the
value premises should guide work, but they do not agree about the consequences. In this situation, the primary consultant intervenes and
states that if people don’t follow the value premises they should be fired
immediately (observations from seminar 3, September 25, 2002).
This situation tells us a lot about how this change discourse—embodied in the primary consultant—has praised itself highly over and above
the language games of everyday life in the company. It gives itself the
“right” to speak in a dangerous fashion where it plays with human destinies on a very slim foundation.
Employee: I think that the process before we met with the management group—it was
the same and the same again. Every seminar is the same. It is just words. The process
in the seminar is the same and the same again, and I got tired of that. Then I think that
when we, in the end, met with management for negotiating—we could feel that they were
used to it. Employees have not been that prepared, and I can understand that many
employees have a hard time seeing that what you said during seminar 1 in each department is part of the value premises. I can imagine that because they don’t regard it as a
headline on each subject. Delegation and competence may mean many different things,
whereas they had a concrete word for it in the local department. I believe that we should
have taken the value premises back to each department—take all the things from seminar 1 besides the value premises. Then they should have said that now we discuss it
from the value premises. I would have liked that. I think that the employees would have
had a completely different impression and good understanding of the value premises,
because then they see that their words are part of the value premises.
Interviewer: How about the consultants. How have they behaved?
Employee: They are probably d… good but I think that especially one of them… . If you
didn’t have the opinion it didn’t matter what you thought. When we had expressed our
opinion, he would like to steer it in one direction. It was the feeling we had out here [in
our department]. And when we said some things, then… . But finally I told him that we
would say what he wanted, and it disturbed him. But it was the feeling that we had and
probably still have—that the consultants wanted to steer it in the direction they wanted
Interviewer: What about the tools?
Employee: They have been OK, but the matter is still whether you listen. It was presented as if we—the employees—should put forward some ideas and wishes to the
value premises, and they should support and guide us. The idea was not.... that it was
their opinion which should be represented. We had the feeling, that it was the feeling that
he [the consultant] had, that needed to be put forward and not what we thought and felt.
But the tools and the set-up have been OK.