Last summer, I had the great honour to receive the Academy of Management's Louis R. Pondy Award for a paper based on my PhD dissertation. I was then interviewed by Georg Reischauer in relation to this achievement for the Organization and Management Theory Division newsletter. The interview is available below.
Interview with the winner of the 2018 Louis Pondy Best Dissertation Paper Award
The Louis Pondy Best Dissertation Paper Award is awarded to the best paper deriving from a dissertation. In 2018, the winner is Pedro Monteiro (Warwick Business School) with this paper “The Enabling Roles of Bureaucracy in Cross-Expertise Collaboration”
Congratulations on being the winner of the Louis Pondy Best Dissertation Paper Award! Can you briefly elaborate on what is your paper is about?
Thank you! It is a great honor to receive this award, and I am very grateful to the OMT community for the recognition.
This paper reflects my overall research interest in bureaucracy and formal organizational dynamics. The word “bureaucracy” usually triggers negative ideas, and some of the business press tends to perceive it as obsolete. Yet my research shows that, under certain conditions, it is not only an essential feature of contemporary organizations but also beneficial to work processes such as collaboration.
In the paper, I follow a practice approach and use data from a 15-month ethnography of the product development in an aeronautical company to show how bureaucracy supports the interdependent work of multiple specialists. More specifically, I examine how formal organizational elements typical of a bureaucratic structure — such as written records, procedures, and formal roles — facilitate interactions and exchanges across a variety of technical experts, enable them to achieve systemic solutions, and help to address interface issues and conflicts.
This contributes to discussions on collaborative work across expertise domains by unpacking the role of bureaucracy in ironing out interdependencies and counter-balancing political barriers and collaboration overload. Moreover, my study also has implications for the broader organizational literature by pointing out some conditions that underpin the enabling values of bureaucracy.
The paper explores the role of bureaucracy in cross-expertise collaboration. What motivated to engage with the classic yet highly important organizational phenomena of bureaucracy?
I think that engaging with ‘classic’ authors and ideas is a hallmark of good scholarship. Thus, in my work, I continually strive to engage with foundational discussions. I am especially interested in formal organization dynamics and its problematics such as organization structure, coordination, authority relations, formalization, and so on. This is in part because I believe that investigating these issues — be it in corporations, social enterprises, events, online, etc. — is what differentiates us, as organization and management scholars.
These two concerns merge into a focus on bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is still a fact of life in and around organizations. Yet most people, including academics, sometimes complain about it too quickly, without considering its complexity. My goal is to go beyond this bias and examine its nature and implications for contemporary organizations. I believe that this can, in turn, lead to significant theoretical and practical contributions as bureaucracy is linked to many social and corporate challenges such as teamwork, innovation, gender equality, and so on.
You conducted a fascinating 15-month ethnography. Can you share your experiences of zooming in and out of the field?
My fieldwork was divided into two periods. The first one had a more exploratory character during which my aim was to get acquainted with the structure, history, and ethos of the organization. I then took a break from the field during which, among other things, I analyzed and reflected on my initial findings. This was when I decided to focus on bureaucracy and returned to the company with a more focused approach.
For me, ethnography does not only entail ‘being somewhere’ but more generally immersing oneself within a specific universe and phenomena. So, throughout all this period, I tried to learn as much as I could about the aeronautical world: I visited engineering schools, attended fairs, and read books about the industry. I also actively searched for information about the company online and offline. For example, some of my favorite stories, including a vignette in my thesis, emerged from conversations with taxi drivers working in the company headquarters area. When studying a large corporation, it is fascinating how much you can gather about it from a variety of sources!
Your paper provides rich insights on the role of bureaucracy in professional setting. How did professionals respond to your findings?
I am still waiting to discover what the reaction will be. At the end of my fieldwork, I returned to the company to share a feedback report and deliver a couple of presentations. I tried to make the report a practical one, echoing concerns I knew were present in the organization. It mostly documented some integration mechanisms and explored possible ways to sustain further collaboration in the product development based on the literature and previous research from the IKON research group in the Warwick Business School. While the report was positively received, it leverages only part of my findings. So, once I manage to get some academic publications out, I hope to distill further ‘practical’ insights from my research. I am curious myself to learn what professionals will say about my ideas related to bureaucracy. From conversations, my impression is that people are curious and a bit puzzled about the idea of designing bureaucracy to help collaboration.
Would you like to share any challenges you faced during the research and writing process? If so, how did you overcome them?
I mentioned above that fieldwork was divided into two parts. Although this arrangement worked well, it emerged partially due to access difficulties. Because it was restricted at first, my solution was to focus on ‘breadth’ until I could explore the company freely and thus dive into specific situations and processes. My strategy was one that is well known to ethnographers: remain persistent and make the most of what you have.
Trying to grasp bureaucracy empirically also presented challenges. This was in part because my goal was to use the Weberian ideal-type as a guide for fieldwork, not a fixed ‘measure’ as done by some previous research. Besides finding inspiration in earlier research, such as the work of Alvin Gouldner, I was also influenced by the artwork of Carl Hammoud. His images foreground aspects of organizational reality which are not always obvious and helped me ‘see the bureaucracy’ behind the many events and interactions I was looking at in the field.
Finally, writing everything up was not always straightforward. Yet I was lucky to have access to some great resources. I attended a workshop by Karin Golden-Biddle early in my PhD which was super useful, her book on writing is also very didactic. I also found the interviews collected by the Project Scrib quite helpful as they show that we all struggle with putting ideas on paper. And finally, I was lucky enough to have many colleagues who helped me clarify my insights. In particular, I benefited from wonderful conversations with the members of the Talking About Organizations Podcast which I am one of the co-founders.
Again, congratulations for winning the Louis Pondy Best Dissertation Paper Award! Is there anything else you would like to share with the OMT community?
I would like to thank all those who supported my work. Scholarship for me is a team sport: one’s work depends on peers who help to bring it to life. Also, special thanks to the company where I conducted my fieldwork and the immense generosity of all those who I met while there. A big thank you to my supervisors from Warwick Business School, Davide Nicolini, and Hari Tsoukas, as well as all those who helped me to clarify my findings and write up the thesis and related paper.
I also would like to share a general reflection with the OMT community. I am only a novice, but sometimes I feel that we have lost touch with some of the core concerns of our field. Namely, a focus on formal organization issues and a meso organizational dimension. While I heartily appreciate the diversity under the OMT umbrella, I feel that many conversations could be enriched by establishing connections with meso-level dynamics and classic literature.
Finally, do you have any advice for colleagues who aspire to win the award in the future?
I am probably biased … but I take the award as a signal of an enduring appreciation for research that explores classic organizational themes and addresses empirical puzzles, even though it might sometimes seem that theoretical problems and new topics are sovereign. Yet, more than a piece of advice, what I have is an invitation: engage with the classics, explore puzzles in the world, and continually ask yourself what is distinctively ‘organizational’ about your research. And if any of these excite you, do get in touch! It is always a pleasure to hear from like-minded colleagues.