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Autonomous, yet Aligned

Time: Fri 2019-10-04 10.00

Location: Kollegiesalen, Brinellvägen 8, Stockholm (English)

Subject area: Industrial Economics and Management

Doctoral student: Gisela Bäcklander , Industriell Management

Opponent: Docent Petra Bosch-Sijtsema, Chalmers University of Technology

Supervisor: Professor Matti A. Kaulio, Industriell ekonomi och organisation, Industriell Management; Doktor Calle Rosengren, Lunds Universitet; Docent Max Rapp Ricciardi, Göteborgs Universitet

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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.