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Making Meaning in the Organization

If you know our site, you know our mantra is "ideas are everywhere". With this in mind, making meaning constantly evolves. We use our own tools to connect, engage, and share ideas and information.  So everybody - meaning scales - is tied into the concentric circles (individual, team, group, department, division, organization, and outside)  of emergent thinking to make meaning. Through this connectedness of meaning the organization performs better and leaves little doubt about what needs to be done.

"Finding Meaning in the Organization"

By Joe Raelin, MIT Sloan Management Review, Summer 2006

"There is an alternative to top-down vision creation. An organization's vision should preferably arise out of the group as it accomplishes its work. The leader doesn't walk away to create the vision; the vision is often already present. It just needs articulation in the form of"meaning-making"

Within an organization, a meaning-maker is someone who gives expression to what members of the group or organization seek to accomplish in their work together. He or she articulates a collective sense of what the group stands for. Meaning-making can come from anyone in the group, though usually the meaning is voiced by someone who listens well, is close to the rhythm of the team and is expressive. He or she may use a variety of techniques to articulate the group's meaning, whether by portraying an image or using an example to depict what the group is doing or not doing, by identifying what is missing or isn't happening, by using humor to describe a situation, by synthesizing the facts, by looking for patterns in a situation or by turning a problem upside down and looking at it from a new perspective.

A former student of mine, a CFO, was able to distinguish the difference between traditional top-down visioning and meaning making in a project in which, after an acquisition, he was trying to integrate the financial structures of the bank's new subsidiaries. This would require an in-house financial management training program, frequent visits to the subsidiaries and a business leadership forum. As he was working through his project, he noted the following in his journal: "I had originally thought that meaning making was all about providing vision. I came to find out that it was more directed at drawing out thoughts and ideas that already existed from individuals and groups. My project proposals are not new ideas. I am simply trying to change the current business focus in order to draw upon and leverage the knowledge and information that currently resides at the subsidiaries but have never been fully utilized to make informed business decisions. As a meaning maker, I am focused on what Margaret Wheatlef refers to as _..creating meaning from work, meaning that transcends present organizational circumstances. As long as we keep purpose in focus, we are able to wander through the realms of chaos:"

The meaning-maker (who, incidentally, need not be the authority figure) requires no special intrinsic powers other than his or her own awareness. After the fact, we might have a tendency to ascribe special powers to the meaning-maker for having identified a unique vision, but the meaning is often there for the taking. What has been lacking is often the courage necessary to detect and then act upon it. In the field of strategic management, there is a so-called deterministic approach suggesting that the role of the leader is not so much to establish a vision as it is to reflect an organization's cultural predispositions. According to this view, determining the strategy of the firm does not arise from a single-minded enunciation of a vision as much as from an understanding of organizational actions."