CoPs facing rationalization: The politics of community reproduction
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionLearning Organization. 2018, 25 (2), 123-134. 10.1108/TLO-03-2016-0020
Purpose This paper aims to explore the relationship between the contemporary forms of manufacturing rationalization and the reproduction of communities of practice (CoPs) centred on tasks and craft. Building on critical literature highlighting the tensions between CoPs and rationalization, this paper aims to develop a nuanced account of how CoPs are reproduced in the context of rationalization. Design/methodology/approach A qualitative case study of a CoP involved in the production of automotive components was conducted. Following a change in ownership, the company was instructed to rationalize production according to the principles of lean production. Data were collected through participant observation and semi-structured interviews. Findings The CoP of the case study reinterpreted, resisted and redefined the lean production practices according to the established norms and values. In collusion with local management, workers protected the integrity of the community by engaging in hypocritical reporting. While lower-level managers buffered the rationalization pressures, workers would “get the work done” without further interference. Research limitations/implications The critical research approach may be applied to a wide range of cases in which informal or professional work organization collides with change programmes driven by management. Future research is encouraged to investigate more closely how CoPs gain access to formal and informal power by enrolling lower-level managers in their joint enterprise and world view. Practical implications Managers should be aware that attempts to rationalize community-based work forms may lead to dysfunctional patterns of organizational decoupling. Originality/value This study is one of the first to empirically examine the relationship between CoPs and manufacturing rationalization.