7 Dancing the Dilemmas: the ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action1 Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 2 Introduction Sharing experiences and insights is one of the perpetual and critical themes in organizational work life. This article takes an exploratory ride into some of the challenges organizations face with respect to ambigu- ities, paradoxes and dilemmas – fundamental hurdles and springboards for understanding knowledge processes. We propose the metaphor of ‘organizational musicality’ for grasping the way individuals and groups in the organization improvise and tackle the paradoxical and ‘messy’ realities they face. This musicality, or sensitivity, conveys itself by the way people ‘tune in to’ and co-create the organizational narratives, myths and rituals that make up some of the central background and premises for the activities going on. The organization’s ways of ‘mytho- logical musicality’, we argue, have major impacts on the possibilities for handling ambiguities and dilemmas constructively, and thus on the climate and opportunity structures for knowledge sharing. Knowledge has emerged as a central and vital conception in organiza- tions since the cognitive revolution in the 1950s. As von Krogh (2003) writes, it ‘bridges the chasm between cognition and action . . . and inte- grates the individual and the collective levels of analysis . . . ’ Knowledge is conceptualized in a number of different ways, and here we adopt a definition from Barth (1994), that knowledge comprises the interfaces between worlds of meaning and the ‘outer world’, thus emphasizing the bridging of the above-mentioned dichotomies. As von Krogh (2003) continues, to progress fruitfully with research in the domain of 115 116 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action knowledge management, we need to ‘pay more attention to . . . why and under what conditions people in organizations share knowledge’. It is in the continuation of these lines of thought we hope to make a contribution. Through a concrete company case study we will explore how living narratives in the form of myths (and rituals) comprise possibilities for building employees’ repertoire for constructively and creatively handling the inevitable dilemmas present – not the least in so-called knowledge- intensive companies. We believe myths and rituals already do play such a role, but that organizations may learn to use them more actively and positively. The hypothesis is that constructive and collective handling of inevitable dilemmas may lead to organizational development and renewal, through enabling of cultural integration and thus knowledge sharing. Dilemma and integration The presence of paradoxes in organizational life, and the insight that reflection produces paradoxes while action requires that they be removed was, as Czarniawska (1997) reports, always at the core of organizational wisdom. She writes, ‘Although much energy is put into solving para- doxes, they always reemerge’ (1997: 168), and quotes Gumbrecht, ‘it is impossible to imagine a reality constructed without paradoxes’ (1997: 176). In line with her argument that ‘ . . . paradoxes not only paralyze action but also enable it’ (1997: 169), we also position ourselves, and adhere to the notion that paradoxes may both be a source of friction and obstruction as well as assist in organizational change and renewal. Like- wise, the narrative and mythological approach advocated here may be legitimized by Bruner’s (1990) notion that paradox destroys the rational decision model, and that narrative can accommodate paradox. The latter is at home in the narrative mode of thought, while an enemy of the paradigmatic (argumentative) one. Because of the more or less ‘instinctive urge’ to try to dissolve paradoxes in the organizational rational mode of decision making and action, we prefer to use the concept of ‘dilemma’ in this chapter. The term ‘paradox’ gives too much way to associations in a logico-scientific, rationalistic mode of understanding that we want to free ourselves from.3 The taken-for-granted values and frames of reference in mainstream organization theory are still more than knee-deep in the Enlightenment, modernistic modes of understanding (such as, the rational and the irrational) and have been moderately able and interested to look at the Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 117 non-scientific, non-rational, mythic sides of organizations. Of course, there are studies based on symbolic approaches (Pondy, Frost and Morgan, 1983; Morgan, 1986), but most of these perspectives seem restrained by the lenses of the modernist ‘mapping of the world’, repre- sentational focus on observable and measurable exteriors with specific location as, for example, behaviours, institutions and techno-economic forms, to the neglect of interiors that are difficult to measure and with no specific location, as meaning, emotion, and values (Wilber, 1996). A second aim here is to try to show the necessity, fruitfulness and crea- tive energy that can be expunged from an organizational epistemology that sees the exteriors and interiors, the rational/irrational and the non- rational/mythic sides as integrative and intersected forms of living knowing – and that this integratedness is immensely valuable for the practical handling of deep dilemmas in knowledge organizations. Myths are, of course, defined in numerous ways, and our definition is inspired from social anthropology, the discipline that brought the myths into people’s contemporary everyday lives. Also supported by Barthes’ (1975) notion that anything can become myth because the universe is infinitely suggestive, they are here understood as a set of more or less oppositional narratives that are held to be true by those who create and maintain them. First, we look at the setting of the study, the methods and processes of the Scandiaconsult project, faced with the challenge of accelerating cultural integration for improving knowledge enabling and sharing after mergers and acquisitions. Secondly, we look more in-depth on the constructs of myths in particular, but also rituals, before entering the two case examples. The two major myths we look at in the cases are respectively illustrated by the sayings: 1) ‘Heart surgery – the cheaper the better?’ (the myth of project initiation); and 2) ‘Scandiaconsult’s flying engineers’ (the myth of the ideal organizational form). The first myth focuses on two Scandiaconsult project cases and illustrates the contrasting opinions among employees on what is important in project initiations. The latter myth illustrates how different communities in the company do different types of projects, roughly speaking national and most often mono-disciplinary projects versus local and often cross- disciplinary projects. Thus, the myth conveys and sharpens the way different project activity systems give rise to dissimilar perspectives when it comes to organizing and prioritizing collaborative work. Against this background, we conclude and discuss the relevance of a ‘mytho- logical approach’ for both: 1) building integrated frames of reference and repertoires for creative and constructive handling of dilemmas; and 118 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action 2) enabling cultural integration through broadening opportunity structures – which facilitate knowledge enabling and sharing – and thus the value of the communal resource (von Krogh, 2003) also in more adverse and distributed organizational environments. The setting: cultural integration after M & A The research data for this study has been produced through a project carried out by SINTEF Industrial Management, Department of Knowledge and Strategy, in collaboration with the Scandinavian engineering consultant company Scandiaconsult, during 2000 and 2001. Scandia- consult was in a heavy growth period in Norway, after mergers and acquisitions of a number of Norwegian firms for the purpose of delivering complete solutions to large engineering projects, thus gaining increas- ingly higher shares of the total project marked.4 The challenges of creating and realizing practical synergies after mergers and acquisitions are familiar from the literature (von Krogh, Sinatra and Singh, 1994; Rumyantseva, Gurgul and Enkel, 2002). Since 1997 corporations have globally spent $5 trillion on mergers and acquisitions, yet in 83 per cent of 700 large mergers the stock price of the combined organization did not rise above those of the single entities.5 In the discussion of barriers to knowledge exchange in the literature, several issues have been in focus: the difference in cultures (information is hidden); leadership behaviour (the role of knowledge management is not stressed); lack of responsibilities (for knowledge repositories); lack of measurements (of reviews and numbers); and lack of structuring (lack of clear definitions). Different barriers are significant on the individual level, for example, limited accommodation and threat to self-image, and at the organizational level, for example, legitimate language, organ- izational stories, procedures and company paradigms (visions, mission statements, core values) (von Krogh, Ichijo and Nonaka, 2000). Different facilitating conditions for knowledge sharing after mergers and acquisi- tions have also been discussed: appropriate atmosphere; the nature of the knowledge (tacit versus explicit); time; size of the firm; frequency of communication (between individuals, in the social community, in direct work processes); and other modes of interaction (technical meet- ings, extended visits, joint training programmes) (Rumyantseva, Gurgul and Enkel, 2002). Against this background, our project with Scandiaconsult focused on methods, concepts and approaches for accelerated cultural integration, after and during the new company mergers and acquisitions. The Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 119 underlying premise was that accelerated (faster than the natural cadence of time would have achieved ‘left to its own’ evolution) cultural integration would enable conditions for improving and lowering the costs of knowledge sharing. A guiding principle in the project was that culture cannot be dictated through directives and decisions, but through communal practices of everyday work. The basic methods of the project were twofold. First, to facilitate process meetings where top management and local project workers met in all of Scandiaconsult’s regional offices in Norway. These were designed ‘ritualized arenas’ with a process leader from SINTEF. The second main method was through inter- views and other documentation to closely follow two specific projects that Scandiaconsult were accomplishing for customers at the time, and on the basis of them make two so-called ‘Learning Histories’6 (see Chapter 10, Røyrvik and Bygdås; Hatling, 2001; Roth and Kleiner, 1999). The two projects provided the main contents and points of departure in the stories. The interviews, process meetings and the two Learning Histories fertilized each other reciprocally (see Fig. 7.1). We attended or facilitated in total around fifteen meetings, including management meetings, process meetings with the knowledge activist forum, and public meetings. Thirty interviews with top management, middle management, project leaders and project members were made. Over half (259 of about 500) of the members of the Norwegian part of Scandiaconsult was directly involved in the study (see Table 7.1 below). Both in the real-life gatherings and in the Learning Histories we focused on what we called the ‘fruitful dilemmas’ that Scandiaconsult employees are facing in daily work activities. Through the ‘dilemma Interviews Process meetings Learning Histories TIME Figure 7.1 The Scandiaconsult project design and main activities Table 7.1 Summary of the study participants and methods, Scandiaconsult (January 2000–December 2001) 120 Sites Employees Methods Unit of Area studied Estimated Number Interviewed Participant Observation On-site Off-site Scandiaconsult number interviewed observation conversation conversation in area or observed Trondheim Office management 8 4 yes yes yes yes yes Specific project 15 7 yes no no yes yes group 1 Knowledge activist 17 17 no yes yes yes yes process forum Public meeting 101 50 no no yes yes no Subtotal 141 78 Oslo Office 9 4 yes yes yes yes no management Specific project 12 4 yes no no yes yes group 2 Knowledge activist 16 16 no yes yes yes yes process forum Public meeting 103 40 no no yes yes no Subtotal 140 64 Drammen Office management 5 4 yes no no yes no Specific project 12 4 yes no no yes yes group 2 Knowledge 18 18 no yes yes yes yes activist process forum Public meeting 35 5 yes no no yes yes Subtotal 70 31 Tønsberg SCC Management 34 34 no yes yes yes no group meeting Public meeting 25 16 no yes yes yes no Subtotal 31 50 Bergen Project managers 10 4 yes no no yes no Public meeting 62 17 no yes yes yes no Subtotal 72 21 Lillehammer Public meeting 17 15 no yes yes yes no Subtotal 17 15 Total 471 259 * This table includes all the units studies; it does not include all the 2,100 Scandiaconsult employees worldwide, but most of the units in Norway are covered. The total number of employees in Norway today is 550, but because of the rapid growth of the corporation the numbers in the table reflect the number of employees at the time each area was studied according to company records and our own. ‘Specific project group 1 and 2’ refers to the project cases used for the two Learning Histories, while ‘Knowledge activist process forum’ refers to the process meetings. 121 122 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action doorway’ the process meeting provided arenas for people to meet, get to know each other and for displaying different perspectives on significant phenomena, and for discussing difficult themes. The Learning Histories, with their intimate project practice focus, provided a possibility to lay down traces and ‘sedimentations’ in the company from the discussions, perspectives and practices that the process meetings and the two project cases spurred. Through this work two very central ‘sets of oppositional stories’ displaying core dilemmas of the company came up. In line with the definition of myths above, we viewed these two ‘sets of oppositional stories’ as two of the most important company myths. Both the building of action repertoires for handling dilemmas, and accelerating cultural integration hinge heavily on the notions of the ‘communal resource’ (von Krogh, 2003), the informal and the shadow organization (Stacey, 1993). A number of characteristics that we will not dwell with here make communities interesting for the problem of cultural integration and knowledge sharing. Derived from a solid tradition in the social sciences the role of communities has, for the last decade or so, received much attention in organization studies, through concepts like ‘communities of practice’ (Lave, 1988; Brown and Duguid, 1991; Wenger, 1998) and ‘micro-communities for knowledge sharing and creation’ (von Krogh, Ichijo and Nonaka, 2000). Concerning knowledge sharing in the community von Krogh, Ichijo and Nonaka (2000) discern at least three central factors: opportunity structures, care and authenticity. In this chapter we are concerned only with the opportunity structures, which rely on both systems of cues7 about what other affiliates are capable of, and of behavioural rituals such as weekly debriefing, departmental meetings, regular project meetings, discussion platforms and lunch gatherings. We will not discuss these types of rituals at length, but focus on the designed ritual arenas of the project period. Faced with the considerable challenge of accelerating cultural integra- tion after mergers and acquisitions, two integrated methods are presented, both targeted at the broadening of opportunity structures, which we see as a fruitful and manageable approach: 1) the establishment of ritualized arenas for dialogic inquiry (the real-life process meeting gatherings); and 2) the co-generative making and use of ‘mythological boundary objects’ for process mediation (the Learning Histories). The ritualized arenas of the process meetings were gatherings were top management and local employees could exchange experiences and insights on critical themes, focusing on ‘fruitful dilemmas’ and facilitated by a process leader from SINTEF, acting as kind of ‘organizational shaman’. The analogy has some interesting features. The shaman is the central Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 123 religious leader in, for example, the Inuit society. He is expected to be a jesting, quick-witted and a somewhat unpredictable person. He pos- sesses intuition and special capabilities and skills (Eriksen, 1993). Like the process leader in our case, who knew the company very well but was not an insider in the sense of being a leader or employee within the organization, all shamans have in common that they stand both inside and outside the society. This makes them powerful. Without elaborating on the vital, and in organization theory to our knowledge virtually unexplored potential embedded in the ‘shamanistic’ characteristics of the process leader role, we focus below on the integratedness of the two methods, the ritualized arenas and the mythological boundary objects, for facilitating and enabling cultural integration in such a dispersed organization. Case lines Myths and rituals are of primary interest in social and cultural anthro- pology. Let us just briefly, before we go more deeply into the case material, have a look at the main insights from these traditions. First of all, we have to remove the moral judgement we implicitly or explicitly assign to the concept of ‘myth’ as something untrue. It was Malinowski (1922) who first put myths into a wider context: they are not false stories, but living reality. He argued that the myths functions as charters for the institutions in the society concerned. Their main function was not their display of the past, but their treatment of the present, for their convey- ance of what is basic and right for the society, for people’s relationships to themselves, each other and ‘the rest of the world’. That is not to say that myths are ‘machinery for consensus production’. Anthropologists have argued that myths also express disagreements and can contain oppositions and paradoxes (Leach, 1964). Leach (1982) defines myths as a set of oppositional stories all regarded as true by the ones who create, re-create and sustain them. From this we have derived our working definition of organizational myths as ‘sets of oppositional stories’ displaying organizational dilemmas. Levi-Strauss (1978) has developed his analysis of the deep structures of myths, which conveys how the myths establish the basic cognitive premises of cultural forms, people’s classification schemas of reality. Thus, myths are first and foremost ‘motors of meaning production’ and provide the meaningful ‘ground- pillars’ in cultural life forms. In line with these traditions it is also possible to regard organizational myths. What is it that shapes and legitimates activities in organizations? 124 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action Some would say it is strategy plans, manuals, business plans, reporting routines, actions plans, management accounting systems and the like. It is not difficult to disagree and say that such texts and figures often remain dry prose, far from lifting the motivations and spirits of knowledge workers out of the trap of everyday routine (Barry and Elmes, 1997), failing to fill them with meaning and motivation in the way myths can. If myths may be seen as a window into the foundational principles of a society (Barth, 1994), as we shall see, they may as well be able to say something significant about the premises underlying organizational activities, and more specifically, on the conditions of the opportunity structures for knowledge sharing. Let us look at two central myths in Scandiaconsult, myths that should have relevance far beyond this specific firm. Heart surgery – the cheaper the better? The myth of ‘project initiation’ One of the most important activities in project-based companies like Scandiaconsult is, without question, the process of acquiring and initi- ating new projects. These companies live from project acquisitions, accomplishment and satisfactory deliverances, and stories of project creations naturally hold a central place in the storytelling culture. The Learning Histories from Scandiaconsult focused to a large extent on what might be labelled the ‘myth of project initiation’.8 Basically the dilemma of project initiation as disclosed in the Learning Histories stretches out an axis from an understanding of acquisitions as ‘pure invitations for tenders’ on the one side, to an understanding of acquiring projects through a history of reputation and trust with ‘good customers’ and other relationships. We have called this myth (set of oppositional stories displaying dilemmas) ‘Heart surgery – the cheaper the better?’ On the importance of relationships, network and trust one of the employees says: ‘The project is based on my old network . . . so it was my friendly relationship with him that was the source for the realization of this project.’ The department manager, who was also in charge of one of the projects, said about Scandiaconsult’s contact person (the project developer hired by the assignment owner who decides whom will get the project): ‘he didn’t want to invite for tenders, because then it will lower the prices and we will get smaller budgets.’ The project developer himself commented: I think it is wrong to choose consultants based on price per hour. It is such an important choice that you have to be certain that it will Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 125 work out well. And that has a lot to do with trusting people, which you build up through a history of collaboration . . . With invitations for tenders, you risk a lot. The leader of the department gave name to the myth of project initiation: Also professional assignment owners live in a system were tenders are at the core. They can’t get out of it. They believe that tenders can be used for everything. With the tenders approach only, they are doomed to bad solutions. If I want to have a heart surgery, I don’t invite for tenders! He continues on the importance of long-term relationships: The whole of our existence is based on trust. People who speak otherwise don’t understand it. And trust is based on personal ties and on rumours. Much of the growth in the firm is based on personal networks. Of course, we must have employees that are trusted with old and potentially new customers. The project leader says it like this: ‘It takes ten good projects to turn the impression after a bad one. The rumours spread. It’s bad to get your name tied to a scandalous project.’ And the person who initiated the project through his personal network insists: ‘The most important of all is network. If my colleagues down the hall here destroy my network, they are in trouble! It has taken years to create a network of trusted relationships . . . ’ These quotations convey mostly one side of the myth of project initiation, the side where trust, long-term relationships and personal networks dominate. Let us briefly look at the other side of the myth, the side were acquisitions are seen as mostly done through invitations for tenders. This Learning History focused on the complexity and diversity in skills needed to complete a cross-disciplinary bid for tender – specifically the Scandiaconsult internal process of making a bid for the planning of the construction of a highway. A project leader states: ‘It is very difficult in these multi-disciplinary tenders, but we need to be on top when it comes to tender deliveries. All the big projects are offered through tenders, and will be even more in the future.’ The story shows how difficult it was to estimate the ‘correct’ cost budget in the tender. The one responsible for the offer says, ‘What they wanted was an offer for 126 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action a pre-project, and giving cost estimates on pre-projects is pretty trouble- some because everything is so open. There are no defined tasks but they want a fixed prize nonetheless.’ A project member says, ‘It is guessing all the time, how much we will spend on the different tasks.’ The project leader continues, ‘I cannot understand how the assignment owner can choose the correct bid.’ Concerning the issue of ‘squeezing’ the costs lower and lower, to be able to compete for the project, one of the employees notes, You can’t just squeeze and squeeze endlessly, because we are supposed to make a living of these projects. Sometimes, if we don’t get the job at the cost we have squeezed and finally estimated, we just have to let the project drift away, because we will loose too much money if we take the job at such a budget. So, seen as a whole of more or less oppositional stories, the myth of project initiation, ‘Heart surgery – the cheaper the better?’ raises the questions of the different practices and perspectives on project acquisi- tions, from the two oppositions of understanding initiations through ‘pure relationships’ and through ‘pure tenders’. It questions the different practices through a comparison with heart surgery. Would you invite for tenders when having a heart surgery, and choose the cheapest offer? Perhaps some tasks and projects in consultant engineering also need to be treated more carefully than simply applying the principle of ‘the cheaper the better’? They display some of the important, difficult and sometimes fruitful dilemmas and ambiguities in the practical lifeworld of project initiations. Project initiation is displayed at the same time, but in different contexts, as being both about tenders and everything that implies concerning formalities, bureaucracy, internal bargaining and squeezing of prizes, and intuitions of ‘what it takes’ of pushing the price low enough to get the project; and at the same time it is all about net- works and trust and long-term relationships with customers and others. The challenge lies in determining in the daily realization of new projects, in new and unique situations, which approach to follow for a proper match between the new context of opportunity – (trying) to get a project – and the concrete tasks of initiating the project, all some- where on the axis of ‘relations–tenders’. As an employee in Scandiacon- sult you are constantly facing such living dilemmas, to which there are no final solutions, but which you must deal with, make judgements and take actions on behalf of. They are the ‘stuff’ that makes up the ambiguous premise behind project initiation work. Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 127 Myths offer some help in making these qualitative assessments. Through conveying experiences from the whole axis the myth provides the people who participate in the communicative interaction with ballast with which to meet new and unique situations better prepared, and without the need to live through all the primary experiences them- selves. This background may provide a repertoire that makes it possible to improvise in new situations displaying dilemma and ambiguity of some sort. Similarly, the conveyance of the myth of project initiation may help in broadening the opportunity structures for knowledge sharing on the vital activity of acquiring and initiating projects. Rather than trying to pin down and pre-define black and white answers, myths help you move into position to handle the problem at hand, more like pro- viding an appropriate background and foundation knowledge. In some ways it is analogous to how a particular piece of music fits a specific dance: the music doesn’t prescribe you to dance – you don’t have to dance at all, certainly not a specific dance – but if you cannot dance any dances you are in trouble if the situation requires dancing. To handle the situ- ation you must improvise; the music will guide you, if you tune in. And the music may also contain multiple messages. You must interpret, and move accordingly. It is the same with myths. Maybe employees, as indi- viduals and collectives, may rehearse their ‘organizational musicality’ and learn how to better ‘dance the dilemmas’? A nice ‘side-effect’ is that myths convey both the important aspects of the values and premises that actors in the organization adhere to in project work, and it thus provides a snapshot of what makes up the cultural formations of the company. These insights are discussed in the ritualized settings in the company, for instance in the designed project process meetings facilitated by the SINTEF process leader ‘shaman’. The Learning Histories may thus be seen as a formalized effort for displaying different perspectives and dilemmas on important issues – and are thus an active ‘construction’ of mythological knowledge based on real mytho- logical material. Rituals are often considered as the active aspect of myths, and can be further specified as the proper context for the discus- sion, display and conveyance of complex knowledge packed in the form of ‘sets of oppositional stories’, that is myths. They can jointly be seen as ‘knowledge springboards’ that help us get into position and come to terms with the really difficult knowledge forms, the implicit, tacit and relational forms of knowledge, that, just as with the need to take continuous runs on the springboard to ‘stay’ in the air, they need to be regenerated and re-created in the daily communicative interaction processes of the company. Myths and rituals are thus seen as two sides 128 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action of the same coin, or as Siamese twins making up some of the important premises of organizational cultural life. These myths and ritualized practices should have relevance to all kinds of project-based companies. Let us now look at the other important myth we focused on in Scandiaconsult. Scandiaconsult’s Flying Engineers: the myth of ‘the ideal organizational form’ Recurring reorganizations are familiar to every employee in a company over a certain size. These reorganization efforts are, of course, intended to improve performance, and some of them are targeted at solving collective action problems through agency. In Scandiaconsult the main discussions of organizational form evolved around geographical versus disciplinary organization. That is, if administrative systems and formal departmental structures were to follow geographic locations or disciplines. As von Krogh (2003) shows, the agency solutions to the challenge of knowledge sharing are in general done in two ways. First, through increasing the number of points of contacts between employees, for example, through problem solving groups, task forces, knowledge and technology transfer units, a multi-layered organization structure (for example, a business system layer, a project layer and knowledge base layer), or a matrix structure where people share knowledge both through a regional orientation and a functional (product/technology) or industry focus. Second, whatever structure of the organizational model, know- ledge sharing is ensured by agency through a system for human resource management including incentive systems like alternative career paths. The agency approach to knowledge sharing has, however, some serious limitations. You can never ‘force’ someone to share knowledge, and the more tacit the knowledge is the more costly, uncertain and time- consuming is its sharing. ‘If knowledge to be shared is tacit, the role of intrinsic motivation outweighs the role of extrinsic motivation . . . ’ (von Krogh, 2003). Thus, the focus on the communal resource in know- ledge sharing, where intrinsic motivation is realized through the workers’ satisfaction by working together with others in order to solve complex tasks. Given the challenges of knowledge sharing after mergers and acquisi- tions in a dispersed environment comprising several large and small former companies, ‘inhabited’ by engineering experts, a lot of the dilemmas discussed evolved around aspects of ‘the ideal organizational structure’ of the company, and practical consequences of the form chosen. The leader of one of the divisions in Scandiaconsult has on Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 129 several occasions when discussing priorities, strategies or challenges said that ‘we cannot make the flying of engineers a business idea!’ This contention has received mixed applause. Some groups and individuals consent to it, while others express their absolute disagreement. The reason for this is that the saying exaggerates and ‘pins down’ the ‘dilemma axis’ of the myth of ‘the ideal organizational form’, and at the same time broaches several of the underlying dilemmas and challenges that the myth has unfolded. One of the issues concerning the problem of collective action is the challenge of choosing between a disciplinary and a geographical main organizational form. In Scandiaconsult they have chosen a kind of geographical organization, but at the same time the departments to some extent follow the disciplines. So it is partly hybrid. The main discussions – as conveyed in interviews, the process meetings and the Learning Histories – concern the confusions over the ‘right’ configura- tion of the main variables in each project; geography, disciplines, market preferences and trends, type of project (for example, cross-disciplinary versus disciplinary, national versus local) and different priorities and interests. More specifically, they convey the different practices and identifications between members who work in projects for local mar- kets versus employers with more national responsibilities. The groups working for the national market feel that the saying ‘we cannot make the flying of engineers into a business idea!’ is disparaging their work, and fear that such work will not be given priority and encouragement from management. The point we want to make on the basis of the Scandiaconsult material, is that no matter what organizational structure you choose you have to handle a set of different dilemmas, dependent upon your specific choice. (See Figure 7.2) From the perspective of geographical organization there are at least three main challenges, touching upon the problems of collective action and knowledge sharing: 1) the market orientation is local, raising the question of how enough focus and atten- tion can be directed towards the mono-disciplinary consulting services that often have a national or international orientation because of the market for such services; 2) with few employees from the same discipline co-located, how do you best sustain quality competence on each of the disciplinary areas the company is covering? In what ways can the discipli- nary competence be developed across geographical and organizational (departmental) boundaries?; and 3) with the business unit tied to local, (cross-)disciplinary units, where would incentives to acquire large, national cross-disciplinary projects rise from? Remember, it was the 130 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action marked trend in this direction that was the trigger for the Scandiaconsult mergers and acquisitions in the first place. With a disciplinary organization there also arise three fundamental challenges. 1) How can we satisfactorily serve the local market, where the majority of the projects are acquired, when the customers demand cross-disciplinary solutions at low prizes? 2) How do you develop trust- worthy and innovative cross-disciplinary competence when the differ- ent disciplines are more or less distributed at several geographical locations and do not have daily contact across disciplinary boundaries? 3) With the business unit tied to disciplinary units that are geograph- ically dispersed, that is, some disciplines are located here and some there, from where do the incentives for cross-disciplinary working on a national basis come from? Graphically, the differences between the two ‘ideal forms’ can be displayed like this, focusing on downsides (−) and upsides (+) of the two models. Geographical organization Disciplinary organization - National disciplinary consulting + National, large cross-disciplinary projects Development of disciplinary competence Development of cross-disciplinary competence Ability to serve the local market Figure 7.2 Distribution of different ‘dilemmas’ depending on the chosen model of organization Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 131 These organizational dilemmas are further accentuated by the fact that Scandiaconsult has a core challenge concerning knowledge sharing because of its highly educated expert employees. As studies have shown, people’s long-term investments in areas of expertise, for example in engineering disciplines, make them reluctant to share knowledge with representatives from other areas, and they tend to be very con- scious of ‘boundaries’ and diverse interests, which separate their work practices from those of other disciplines (von Krogh, 2003). This twofold challenge of on the one hand the disciplinary versus geographical organization, and on the other hand, the mono-disciplinary inclination of engineering experts, was expressed in a metaphorical vision statement by the Norwegian CEO: ‘Scandiaconsult should be viewed as a competent mixed choir. In the really good choirs the sopranos, alts, tenors and basses are located in a mixture of four and four throughout the whole choir.’ The knowledge conveyed in the ritualized contexts of the project process meetings and also in the Learning Histories, although the focus of the latter was on the myth of project initiation, reveals the myth of the ideal organizational form, with its interpretative branches and consequences. After being challenged on the metaphor of ‘not turning flying of engineers into a business idea’ the leader started to use it in a more elaborate and sophisticated way: ‘We shall not turn flying of engineers into a business idea, but if necessary we will fly them to the moon!’ This last version is better signalling the ambivalence and com- plexity of the subject matter, and also better tuned to his original inten- tion with the saying. When explaining it, it became clear that the saying was dependent on many context variables like size and type of the project, what resources are available, what activity system is in question, what part of the business is involved, etc., to decide on the question of using local engineers or members located throughout Norway. They didn’t want to fly engineers from town to town if local employees could do the job at the same quality level, but in areas where their skills are unique and they have national responsibilities, the customers will pay the price of the ‘Scandiaconsult flying engineers’. These issues were of significant concern for project members in their daily priorities. For example, it was an issue when staffing a project with consultants either with a history from national, mono-disciplinary projects or from the local cross-disciplinary projects. The consultants 132 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action with the national responsibilities usually can charge a higher hourly fee for their consulting. When working on the same project this differential hourly rate could turn into a somewhat troublesome ‘status’ issue. The local consultants found it strange that the others (with the same years of experience) could get higher rates, and the ‘national’ consultants found it strange to participate in projects were they got ‘underpaid’. The discussions around this myth may thus reveal that one and the same consultant are at different times working within different activity systems with different premises for the project logic. Again we see the issue of musicality regarding the complex premises and practices of engineering consultant work. The myth displays that the consultant’s move in and out of different roles and different logics of project activity. These movements can be accomplished with different degrees of sensitivity and creativity. The myth awakens the awareness to these complexities and dilemmas, and again may guide the employees towards an ameliorated musicality with respect to understanding activity system premises and rendering opportunities for constructive improvisations in the face of the inevitable dilemmas. The ritualized arenas and Learning Histories as myths may thus turn dilemmas from only being liabilities to potential possibilities. Concerning the paradoxical organizational life Czarniawska (1997: 176) writes: the direct experience of paradox is threatening to individuals and institutions, but becomes a topic for reflection when the experience is indirect as in a stage play or a TV series. May we extend it to a case of organized reflection . . . and see that it also opens the possibilities for institutional renewal? We think the cases here exemplify this transition into the realm of opportunity. The myths display the impossibility of a precedent and final solution to acquisition, staffing and accomplishment of projects, and of any ‘dilemma-free’ organizational form. However, through the rituals and myths it is possible to exchange knowledge on the premise or cultural background on which specific projects have to be configured. The myths both differentiate and mediate the dilemmas, and thus make them ‘really real’ in the sense that they become perceivable and thus possible subjects for reflection and action. The employees are attaining a better understanding of the premises for the activities they are themselves making and being made by. Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 133 A consequence is the possibility for more meaningful and motivated collective actions and a sense of being ‘on top of’, and more in control of, the project activities they are involved in. Consequentially it may open up possibilities to tear down barriers to knowledge sharing, as, for instance, anxiety about loosing authority or status, the threat to self- image, and a display, sharing and broadening of the legitimate language of the company. An opposite outcome is also possible, of course, that members will distance themselves from such approaches with arguments such as ‘we are not given any clear answers or procedures’ and ‘such discussions gives us nothing’. It is, however, our experience that practi- tioners recognize their complex environments, and welcome dialogic inquiries that produce arenas, concepts, frameworks and tools for manoeuvring and enabling. Conclusions The main question dealt with in this article has been the potential for broadening opportunity structures, through myths and rituals, for improving individual and collective guidance in handling organizational dilemmas and situations of ambiguity – thus also targeting the question of enabling knowledge sharing – in distributed organizational communi- ties. In our cases we have especially focused on ‘mythological means’ for accelerated cultural integration after mergers and acquisitions. Concerning the challenges of enabling knowledge, we were here only concerned with the potential for leveraging knowledge sharing associ- ated with the opportunity structures (and not care and authenticity). In von Krogh’s discussion of opportunity structures, he refers to the structuring of organizational relationships that make out the occasion and benefit of communal knowledge sharing. This structuring hinges on many factors such as individual and collective benefits from know- ledge sharing, the sequence and history of knowledge sharing activity in the community, the diverse and dispersed interests, knowledge and experience of affiliates and their search for sharing opportunities, and bargaining and helping behaviour (von Krogh, 2003). As discussed above, under different conditions, opportunity structures to sustain collective action rely on both systems of cues about what other affiliates are capable of, and of behavioural rituals such as weekly debriefing, departmental meetings, regular project meetings, discussion platforms and lunch gatherings. Myths function as ‘deep systems of cues’ that have the potential for building action repertoires to be utilized in situations of ambiguity and 134 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action dilemma. The myths and rituals should, as noted above, be understood as ‘Siamese twins’ that only can be properly conceptualized as inti- mately connected. Thus, we propose that the process meetings of the Scandiaconsult project can be interpreted as providing ritualized contexts or settings for the possible broadening of the opportunity structures to handle dilemmas and better enable knowledge sharing, while the Learning Histories may be depicted as active ‘mythmaking’ for improve- ment in the same fields. A question that could be explored further is whether the broadening of the opportunity structures by these means may have two main possible side-effects. Could individuals and groups in the organization also get 1) more focused on important issues and critical activities in their work practices, or 2) get more defocused with respect to what is important for them in the job? To the challenges of inevitable and in many respects unsolvable dilemmas and the ‘ambiguity intensiveness’ (Alvesson, 2001) of the knowledge era organizations, what we may have shown is that by shedding light on and framing organizational premises (the always recur- ring ‘inevitable’ living dilemmas) in narrative modes of conveyance, the company members exchange cultural understandings. This was done through highlighting the link between the different company commu- nities and the two myths exposed. The link was different in the two myth examples. In the first case the link was grounded in the communities that evolved around two locally anchored Scandiaconsult projects, and the differentiating trait was their dissimilar focus on what to them seemed the most important factors in project initiations. In the latter myth, the link between the communities and the myth was tailored to the way different communities in practice are doing various types of projects, where generally speaking the one ‘community’ (dispersed around Norway) does national and most often mono-disciplinary projects, while the other does local and often cross-disciplinary projects. The myth thus focuses on the different perspectives that these dissimilar project activity systems give rise to when it comes to organizing and prioritizing collaborative work – and what happens when the same consultant needs to operate in both systems. The discussion of the two main myths was accomplished a little bit differently. The first was displayed in more empirical detail with thorough direct quoting, while the latter was more analytical, outlining dilemma consequences of the chosen organization. The first covers the small and specific, but important, phenomenon of project initiation. It opens up the main ‘dilemma axis’ and examines both sides of the myth in detail, illuminating what it means in practical work settings. Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 135 The second myth explores aspects of the huge and well-known discussion of organizational forms or models. The phenomenon needed no legiti- mation through detailed empirical quoting, we chose rather to focus on the different themes and dilemmas that emerge and need to be ‘bal- anced out’ in concrete project settings, contingent on the specific chosen model of organization. The first is more micro oriented than the latter, just like the link between the myth and the Scandiaconsult com- munities it ‘reflected’. The two myths were of very different character, the representation of them we thought should convey this. Likewise, it was an opportunity to show two quite dissimilar ways to work with ‘mythological musicality’. We have not discussed the characteristics of ‘situations facing dilemma’ when it comes to temporality. Intuitively these situations are different with respect to their ‘stretch in time’, and this difference should affect the usefulness of the ‘mythological resource’ and how, if at all, the resource is mobilized in each situation. This needs to be further explored. In sum, we believe we have shown how the myths and ritualized arenas (that is, the process meetings of the knowledge activist forum) may accelerate the exchange of knowledge about what others are capable of, about diverse business activity logics, and illuminate some of the premises different company practices are built upon. Through the ritualized company settings and the mythological conveyance and creation, 9 the communal resource seems to have been made more trans- parent (which can be interpreted as a broadening of opportunity struc- tures), and thus been rendered able to play a role in accelerating cultural integration also between dispersed communities with members containing high levels of diversity in interests and preferences. Some of the ‘agency results’ of the project in the company were actions taken by management, who have had strong ownership of the processes throughout the project, of increasing points of contacts between com- pany members, of explicating principles that earlier were tacit and only a part of some ‘cultures’ in the company, and through redesigning some of the ‘lines of communication’ between projects and management. The most important contribution of the project, however, we believe is that the constructed ritual arenas and enhanced company myths provided an appropriate background for the communal resources to potentially self-organize activities across boundaries (cultural, disciplinary, formal, geographical, hierarchical) held in shape by the engineering culture of mono-disciplinary inclinations, and the inevitable dilemmas that emerge. This was made possible, for example, because management 136 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action and employees both were ‘given voice to’ and were ‘seen’ outside their already established communities. Thus, the approach may be depicted as at least a partial countering of the problems of the decreasing value of the communal resource as the company grows. In the combining of agency actions taken and the enhancing of an enabling background (focus and ‘construction’ of company-wide myths and rituals) we see the integrative approach (the interconnectedness of the rational exteriors and the non-rational interiors) that is argumented for in this article. An indication that this worked, at least to some degree, was in a post-summary project meeting with forty Scandiaconsult consultants, mostly managers, where we observed a shift in substance in the communications, from being primarily focused on the different struggles of organizing to concentrating on future market and collaborative project possibilities. They claimed this shift also occurred in the daily internal discussions, and that their involvement in the Kunne research project had a substantial impact on this transformation. Another indication is that Scandiaconsult, in a difficult business, has continued to grow and thrive, although the SINTEF project contribution to that may be anything from marginal to important (especially considering Scandiaconsult was in a critical growth phase). We see the Siamese twins of myths and rituals as a form of dialogic inquiry by means of boundary objects. While boundary objects have been studied in use (Star and Griesemer, 1989), and the ‘creation and management of boundary objects is a key process in developing and maintaining coherence across intersecting communites’ (Bowker and Star, 1999: 297), Star, who coined the term, is very careful to emphasize that ‘boundary objects arise over time from durable cooperation among communities of practice’ (Bowker and Star, 1999). The Learning Histories, due to their intentional design and history of immediate applica- tion, violate such a strict understanding of boundary objects. While the strong definition may reject the deliberate construction, including outsiders, of usable and functional boundary objects as impossible – just like many anthropologists would reject the whole project of accelerating cultural integration as futile – the Scandiaconsult project was, with integrated methods and focus on co-generative learning processes, exactly such an attempt. We need to explore further the dynamics and potential of our approach in light of framing it as ‘quasi-boundary objects’, or rather ‘mythological boundary objects’. The myths and rituals may, on the background given in this article, be seen as having practical potential for broadening the opportunity Emil André Røyrvik and Egil Wulff 137 structures for dispersed work and cultural integration of the newly acquired companies. This is, of course, a never-ending process that needs to be constantly re-created through daily use. We contend therefore that the agency approaches to knowledge sharing suffer from the modernist, rationalist bias of believing that you can properly manage all types of knowledge and therefore more or less ‘enforce’ knowledge sharing. This is, in our view, valid only as far as it goes. While agency approaches no doubt are valuable for the sharing of exterior forms of knowledge (such as rules, behaviour, facts, numbers), to get at the problem of sharing interior forms (such as meaning, understanding, tacit relational forms, resonance, active empathy) additional and comple- mentary approaches are needed. The focus on the broadening of the opportunity structures through myths and rituals is targeted at this integration. It emphasizes the continuous re-realization and integration between the company’s ‘what does it do?’ (exteriors) and the ‘what does it mean?’ (interiors), in an attempt to awaken, maintain and renew organizational processes of active and living ‘coming to knowing’. Notes 1. For a differently angled variant of this chapter, utilizing the same empirical material, but focusing more on the self-organizing potential of the communal resource with respect to knowledge sharing, also in distributed organizational settings with the ‘leveraging’ aid of myth and ritual, see Røyrvik and Wulff (2002). 2. We are grateful for comments from Mattheus Urwyler, University of St Gallen, and Kjersti Bjørkeng, SINTEF Industrial Management. 3. Dilemma is here used as a ‘folk notion’, understood usually as an undesirable or unpleasant choice or a problem involving a difficult decision. It can also denote a difficult or persistent problem. As Merriam Webster (http://www. m_w.com/cgibin/dictionary) suggests, the use of such adjectives as terrible, painful and irreconcilable suggests that dilemma is losing some of its unpleasant force. 4. At the time of the project, Scandiaconsult increased its number of employees from about 350 to 450 in Norway, and about 2,000 in total in Norway, Finland and Sweden. By June 2003, Scandiaconsult merged with Rambøll, and is now part of the Rambøll group covering domestic markets in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland; today there are about 550 employees in Norway and more than 4,200 employees at seventy offices in the Nordic region. 5. Mergerstat, 2001. 6. Learning Histories can briefly be defined as a formalized approach for capturing and sharing learning experiences within a distributed network of organizational actors, presented as multivoiced stories giving complementary and more or less oppositional perspectives on significant events and phenomena in the organization’s work life. See also chapter ten of this book. 138 The ‘Mythological’ Enabling of Collective Action 7. Cues as both stimulus to perception and hints on how to behave in certain circumstances, thus enabling both in terms of searching for knowledge and bargaining about when sharing knowledge is suitable (von Krogh, 2003). 8. Of the two main myths covered in this article, although there were major reciprocal exchanges as outlined in Figure 7.1, the main material for the first myth, the myth of project initiation came through interviews and the two Learning Histories developed in the project, while the main material for the second myth, the myth of the ideal organizational form, came through inter- views and the work with the process meetings. 9. In ways that cut across both geographical, disciplinary and business area boundaries. References Alvesson, M. 1995. Management of Knowledge-intensive Companies, New York: Walter de Gruyter. Alvesson, M. 2001. ‘Knowledge work: Ambiguity, image and identity’, Human Relations, 54 (7): 863–86. Alvesson, M. and Skøldberg, K. 2000. 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