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Autonomous, yet Aligned: Challenges of Self-Leadership in Context
KTH, School of Industrial Engineering and Management (ITM), Industrial Economics and Management (Dept.), Industrial Management.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7875-7826
2019 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [sv]

Följande avhandling bidrar till teorier om ledning av kunskapsarbete på mikronivå, genom att undersöka självledarskap i kunskapsarbete och organisatoriska försök att främja det på individ- och teamnivåer. Det empiriska materialet är insamlat i kontexter av innovativ mjukvaruutveckling, konsulter, och aktivitetsbaserat arbetssätt; metoden är företrädesvis djupintervjuer och tematisk analys, och i papper IV enkät och statistisk analys. Den övergripande forskningsfrågan har varit: Hur kan organisationer stödja hållbart och produktivt självledarskap hos sina anställda?

   I papper I framträder en förmåga att “se” vilket arbete som skulle göras. Det antyder att situationellt omdöme och uppmärksamhet är nyckelingredienser i vad som slutligen ses som framgångsrikt självgående eller självledarskap hos anställda. I papper II indikerar kunskapsarbetare själva att en förväntan att kunna ”utläsa” chefens/omgivningens krav som något som bidrar till ett internaliserande av krav och att man ser sig själv som källan till stress. Konsulterna i studien uttryckte en tro på interna själv-disciplinära strategier av en mer reaktiv natur som det som skulle göra dem mer självledande. I själva verket så visade deras berättelser istället på att det snarare var mer externa och proaktiva strategier (att välja eller ändra arbetsmiljön) som fungerade bäst i praktiken, vilket rimmar väl med den forskning om begränsade resurser för självreglering som publicerats på senare tid.

   Baserat på papper I & II så undersöker papper IV kvantitativt hypotesen att ha god tillgång till arbetsrelevant information (“information richness”) skulle ha ett starkare samband med lägre kognitiv stress, och bättre prestation, är de interna och självfokuserade strategier som förordas i det etablerade konceptet och måttet self-leadership (självledarskap). I synnerhet i en kontext av aktivitetsbaserat arbete, där medarbetarna själva har stark möjlighet att bestämma hur, var, när, och med vem de utför arbete. Hypoteserna bekräftades i stort, vilket tyder på att när organisatoriska situationer inte kan konfigureras starkt, till exempel eftersom den bästa arbetsprocessen inte är känd, eller för att innovation eller olika samarbeteskonstellationer krävs, så behöver de berikas så att den orientering och om-orientering som anställda behöver göra inte blir för belastande för den enskilda och försämrar kognitiv funktion och prestation.

   Papper III är en fallstudie av agila coacher (AC) på Spotify och hur de praktiserar ett underlättande ledarskap (”enabling leadership”), en central, balanserade kraft inom complexity leadership theory (Uhl-Bien, Marion, & McKelvey, 2007). Coacher praktiserar underlättande ledarskap genom att öka kontext-känsligheten hos andra, genom stöd till andra ledarroller, genom att etablera och förstärka enkla beslutsprinciper, observera gruppdynamik, synliggöra motsättningar och underlätta och uppmuntra konstruktiv dialog. AC som komplexitetsledare värderar att vara närvarande, observera och reagera i ögonblicket. Fynden antyder att den flexibla struktur som en uppmärksam coach bidrar med kan vara ett fruktsamt sätt att navigera och balansera autonomi och målstyrning, att ha en gemensam riktning.

Omformuleringen av konceptet självledarskap i den här avhandlingen pekar på vikten av att, som individ, 1) kunna navigera ”svaga” situationer och att se eller skapa sina egna arbetsuppgifter på ett sådant sätt som gör ett värdefullt bidrag till organisationen, och 2) ha möjligheten att avlasta kognitiva krav på sin miljö i bred mening. Att stödja självledarskap innebär i så fall att stödja dessa två huvudmekanismer. Och med ett resursperspektiv kan vi säga att organisationer kan erbjuda stöd genom att bygga eller erbjuda resurser av olika slag, som i sin tur låter medarbetare ha mer kvar av sina interna, personliga resurser för de tillfällen då de verkligen behövs.

Abstract [en]

In this thesis, I add to theories of management of knowledge work at the micro-level, by an examination of self-leadership in knowledge work and organizational attempts to foster it at the individual and team levels, in the empirical settings of innovative software development, consultants, and activity based working; the methods are mainly interviews and thematic analysis (I-III), and survey and statistical analysis (IV). The main research question has been: How can organizations support sustainable and productive self-leadership in their employees?

   In paper I, a ‘seeing work’-skill emerged in all interviews with managers, implicating situational judgment and attention as core to what is ultimately seen as successful self-direction. In paper II, consultants indicate the expectation to “infer” demands as leading to internalization of demands and seeing oneself as a source of stress. While consultants expressed a belief in internal self-discipline strategies of a more reactive nature to self-lead, in fact, external and proactive strategies (selecting or modifying the working environment) were the most effective in practice, echoing recent research on limited self-regulatory resources.

   Paper IV examined quantitatively the hypothesis, based on papers I & II, that having timely access to work relevant information (“information richness”) would have a stronger relationship with lower cognitive stress and better performance, than internal, self-focused self-leadership strategies, in the setting of Activity Based Working Environments where employees have high autonomy to decide how, where, when, and with whom to perform work. This hypothesis was confirmed, suggesting that when organizational situations cannot be strongly structured, for example because the best work process is not known, or innovation or different collaboration constellations are needed, they need instead to be enriched so that employee orientation and co-ordination does not become too much of a burden on the individual employee, disrupting cognitive functioning and performance.

   Paper III is a case study of agile coaches at Spotify and how they practise enabling leadership, a key balancing force of complexity leadership theory (Uhl-Bien, Marion, & McKelvey, 2007). Coaches practise enabling leadership by increasing the context‐sensitivity of others, supporting other leaders, establishing and reinforcing simple principles, observing group dynamics, surfacing conflict and facilitating and encouraging constructive dialogue. The AC as complexity leader values being present, observing and reacting in the moment. Findings suggest flexible structure provided by an attentive coach may prove a fruitful way to navigate and balance autonomy and alignment in organizations.

   The re-conceptualization of self-leadership in this thesis points to the importance for the individual of 1) being able to navigate ”weak situations” and to ”see” or ”create” one’s own work tasks so as to make a valuable contribution to the organization, and 2) for the ability to offload cognitive demands onto the environment, in a broad sense. Supporting self-leadership, then, would mean supporting these two main mechanisms. And with a resource perspective, organizations can offer support by building or offering resources, of various kinds, that allow for employees to have more resources to spare for where and when they are truly needed.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2019. , p. 206
Series
TRITA-ITM-AVL ; 2019:27
Keywords [en]
work design, knowledge work, self-leadership, self-regulation, employeeship
Keywords [sv]
arbetsdesign, kunskapsarbete, självledarskap, självkontroll, medarbetarskap
National Category
Business Administration
Research subject
Industrial Economics and Management
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-257775ISBN: 978-91-7873-288-3 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-257775DiVA, id: diva2:1348375
Public defence
2019-10-04, Kollegiesalen, Brinellvägen 8, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2019-09-04 Created: 2019-09-04 Last updated: 2019-09-06Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. To see or not to see: Importance of sensemaking in employee self-direction
Open this publication in new window or tab >>To see or not to see: Importance of sensemaking in employee self-direction
2019 (English)In: Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, ISSN 2245-0157, E-ISSN 2245-0157, Vol. 9, no 2, p. 25-45Article in journal (Refereed) In press
Abstract [en]

Being self-directed is one of the most sought-after employee attributes. The present study examines managers’ approaches to and conceptualization of employee self-directedness through semi-structured interviews with 13 managers from five companies in the Stockholm area. Analysis suggests two different emphases in trying to increase self-direction, with differing underlying assumptions: an evaluation emphasis where self-direction is conceptualized as an inherent property of the individual, and a cultivation emphasis suggesting a more interactionist perspective of self-direction as an emergent behavior based on the interaction of individual and situational characteristics. Further, a “seeing work”-skill emerged in all interviews, implicating situational judgment and attention as core to what is ultimately seen as successful self-direction. Managers with a cultivation emphasis mentioned as viable tactics those focused on supporting sensemaking and thus enriching the working situation to enable better discretionary situational judgements.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Aalborg: , 2019
Keywords
Sensemaking, self-direction, self-leadership, proactive behavior, knowledge work, Sweden, HRM, leadership, självgående, självledarskap, proaktivt beteende, kunskapsarbete, sensemaking, HRM, ledarskap
National Category
Applied Psychology Social Psychology Work Sciences
Research subject
Industrial Economics and Management
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-249669 (URN)000484170500003 ()2-s2.0-85067625991 (Scopus ID)
Note

QC 20190429

Available from: 2019-04-16 Created: 2019-04-16 Last updated: 2019-10-04Bibliographically approved
2. Managing Intensity in Knowledge Work: Self-Leadership Practices among Danish Management Consultants
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Managing Intensity in Knowledge Work: Self-Leadership Practices among Danish Management Consultants
(English)In: Journal of Management and Organization, ISSN 1833-3672, E-ISSN 1839-3527Article in journal (Refereed) Accepted
Abstract [en]

This paper examines the sources of knowledge workers’ work intensity and the self-leading strategies they apply to deal with it. The paper is based on focus group interviews with management consultants in a Danish management consultancy firm. Work intensity was identified as resulting from a combination of: (1) a results-only focus, (2) vagueness, (3) boundaryless work, and (4) low control of the quantitative load. A framework for self-leading strategies is developed based on the dimensions of reactive/proactive and self-focused/externally-focused strategies in different combinations. The results indicate that while consultants expressed a belief in internal self-discipline strategies of a more reactive nature, in fact, external and proactive strategies were the most effective in practice. In conclusion, the paper contributes to an extension of self-leadership theory to better account for current research on self-control.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Cambridge University Press
National Category
Work Sciences Business Administration Applied Psychology
Research subject
Industrial Economics and Management
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-236759 (URN)10.1017/jmo.2018.64 (DOI)
Funder
Forte, Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare, 2012-1253
Note

QC 20181002

Available from: 2018-10-22 Created: 2018-10-22 Last updated: 2019-09-04Bibliographically approved
3. Doing Complexity Leadership Theory: How agile coaches at Spotify practice enabling leadership
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Doing Complexity Leadership Theory: How agile coaches at Spotify practice enabling leadership
2019 (English)In: Creativity and Innovation Management, ISSN 0963-1690, E-ISSN 1467-8691, Vol. 28, no 1, p. 42-60Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Complexity leadership theory (CLT) is about balancing formal and informal organisation to leverage dynamics of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) and produce learning, creativity, and adaptation in organisations. Based on interviews with sixteen agile coaches (AC) at Spotify, this study examines how AC practice enabling leadership, a key balancing force in complexity leadership. Coaches practice enabling leadership by increasing the context-sensitivity of others, supporting other leaders, establishing and reinforcing simple principles, observing group dynamics, surfacing conflict and facilitating and encouraging constructive dialogue. The AC as complexity leader values being present,observing and reacting in the moment. Findings suggest flexible structure provided by an attentive coach may prove a fruitful way to navigate and balance autonomy and alignment in organisations.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
John Wiley & Sons, 2019
Keywords
complexity leadership theory, agile development, team coaching, dialogue, enabling leadership, emergence, complex adaptive system
National Category
Business Administration
Research subject
Industrial Economics and Management
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-240335 (URN)10.1111/caim.12303 (DOI)000459053200005 ()2-s2.0-85060763064 (Scopus ID)
Note

QC 20190129

Available from: 2018-12-17 Created: 2018-12-17 Last updated: 2019-09-04Bibliographically approved
4. Navigating the Activity Based Working Environment – Relationships of Self-Leadership, Autonomy and Information Richness with Cognitive Stress and Performance
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Navigating the Activity Based Working Environment – Relationships of Self-Leadership, Autonomy and Information Richness with Cognitive Stress and Performance
Show others...
2019 (English)In: Scandinavian Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, E-ISSN 2002-2867Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In Activity Based Working Environment (ABWE) offices, employees are allowed increased autonomy and are expected to choose where, when, with whom, and to some degree with what, to work; in other words, employees are expected to self-lead to a higher degree and to coordinate and align with colleagues. Effects of these expectations on employees’ cognitive stress and performance are understudied. In the present study, Swedish ABWE workers (N = 416) are compared with workers in cell offices (N = 30) and landscape offices (N = 64), and relationships of self-leadership, information richness, and autonomy with cognitive stress and performance were examined using regression analysis. Results show no relationship between office type and outcomes. For cognitive stress, information richness had the largest negative relationship, followed by self-leadership: goal-setting and autonomy. For performance, self-leadership: goal-setting had the largest positive relationship, followed by information richness. This suggests that when organizational situations cannot be strongly structured – for example because the best work process is not known, or innovation or different collaboration constellations are needed – they need instead to be enriched so that employee orientation and coordination do not become too much of a burden on the individual employee, disrupting cognitive functioning and performance.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Stockholm University Press, 2019
Keywords
activity based working environment, activity based, flex office, self-leadership, information richness, cognitive stress, autonomy
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Industrial Economics and Management
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-240334 (URN)10.16993/sjwop.58 (DOI)
Projects
Aktivitetsstyrda arbetsplatser - Framtidens kontor
Funder
VINNOVA, 2014-00907
Note

QC 20190108

Available from: 2018-12-17 Created: 2018-12-17 Last updated: 2019-09-04Bibliographically approved

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