Navigating collective identity in a temporary coopetitive post-disaster rebuild organisation.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Collective identity construction in organisations engaged in an inter-organisational collaboration (IOC), especially temporary IOCs set up in disaster situations, has received scant attention in the organisational studies literature yet collective identity is considered to be important in fostering effective IOC operations. This doctoral study was designed to add to our understanding about how collective identity is constituted throughout the entire lifespan of a particular temporary coopetitive (i.e., simultaneously collaborative and competitive) IOC formed in a post-disaster environment. To achieve this purpose, a qualitative case study of the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT), a time-bound coopetition formed to repair the horizontal infrastructure in Christchurch, New Zealand after the devastating 2011 Canterbury earthquakes, was undertaken. Using data from semi-structured interviews, field observations, and organisational documents and other artefacts, an inductive analytic method was employed to explore how internal stakeholders engaged with and co- constructed a collective SCIRT identity and reconciled this with their home organization identity.
The analysis revealed that the SCIRT collective identity was an ongoing process, involving the interweaving of social, temporal, material and geospatial dimensions constructed through intersecting cycles of senior managers’ sensegiving and employees’ sensemaking across SCIRT’s five and a half years of existence. Senior management deliberately undertook identity work campaigns that used organisational rituals, artefacts, and spatial design to disseminate and encourage a sense of “we are all SCIRT”. However, there was no common sense of “we-ness”. Identification with SCIRT was experienced differently among different groups of employees and across time. Employees’ differing senses of collective identity were accounted for by their past, present, and anticipated future relationships with their home organisation, and also (re)shaped by the geosocial environments in which they worked.
The study supports previous research claiming that collective identity is a process of recursive sensegiving and sensemaking between senior managers and employees. However, it extends the literature by revealing the imbricated nature of collective identity, how members’ sense of “who we are” can change across the entire lifetime of a temporary IOC, and how sociomateriality, temporality, and geosocial effects strongly intervene in employees’ emerging senses of collective identity. Moreover, the study demonstrates how the ongoing identity work can be embedded in a time-space frame that further accentuates the influence of temporality, especially the anticipated future, organisational rituals, artefacts, and the geosocial environment.
The study’s primary contribution to theory is a processual model of collective identity that applies specifically to a temporary IOC involving coopetition. In doing so, it represents a more finely nuanced and situational model than existing models. At a practical level, this model suggests that managers need to appreciate that organisational artefacts, rituals, and the prevailing organisational geosocial environment are inextricably linked in processes that can be manipulated to enhance the construction of collective identity.