Temporal Work in Strategy Making
University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management
Wanda J. Orlikowski
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management
July 30, 2012
Organization Science, Forthcoming
Rotman School of Management Working Paper No. 2119998
This paper reports on a field study of strategy making in one organization facing an industry crisis. In a comparison of five strategy projects, we observed that organizational participants struggled with competing interpretations of what might emerge in the future, what was currently at stake, and even what had happened in the past. We develop a model of temporal work in strategy making that articulates how actors resolved differences and linked their interpretations of the past, present, and future so as to construct a strategic account that enabled concrete strategic choice and action. We found that settling on a particular account required it to be coherent, plausible and acceptable, otherwise breakdowns resulted. Such breakdowns could impede progress, but could also be generative in provoking a search for new interpretations and possibilities for action. The more intensely actors engaged in temporal work, the more likely the strategies departed from the status quo. Our model suggests that strategy cannot be understood as the product of more or less accurate forecasting without considering the multiple interpretations of present concerns and historical trajectories that help to constitute those forecasts. Projections of the future are always entangled with views of the past and present, and temporal work is the means by which actors construct and reconstruct the connections among them. These insights into the mechanisms of strategy making help explain the practices and conditions that produce organizational inertia and change.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 49
Keywords: temporal work, strategy as practice, practice lens, projective agency, cognition, sensemaking, provisional settlements, breakdowns
JEL Classification: M10, M19, L20, L21Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: August 2, 2012 ; Last revised: October 8, 2012
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