Dynamics of Collective Sensemaking and Social Structuring Action Nets: An Organizational Ethnography Within the Military Health System's Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Open Access
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Organizational perception and conception of interactions and relationships vary over time and space. This study focused on the capacity within and between healthcare organizations to collectively make sense of ambivalent and ambiguous environments in the context of social structuring actions (Czarniawska, 2008; Johnson, 2009; Weick, 1995). The purpose was to develop narrative frames from which a deeper understanding could be developed of how collective sensemaking is enacted through reciprocal and reflective interorganizational relationships during the final phases of an intended multiorganizational integration endeavor (Barki & Pinsonneault, 2005; Oliver, 1990). This study explored and described collective sensemaking as recognizable patterned social structuring actions that surfaced during integration efforts within the Military Health System's Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. A narrative approach illustrated emergent social processes. In the process of collaboration, ongoing generative conversations (Taylor & Van Every, 2000; Hardy, Lawrence, & Grant, 2005; Weick, 2004) affected the relationships between collective sensemaking and social structuring. An interpretive constructionist perspective revealed practices involving the interplay of assignment of meaning (signification), reducing equivocality and integration; formation of a sense of community, establishing structures and norms (legitimation); and the effects of collaboration and power (domination) distribution (Giddens, 1984; Weick, Sutcliffe, & Obstfeld, 2005).More than 24 months of embedded observation aided the researcher's awareness of ongoing narrative dynamics of collaborative actions setting the conditions for the emergence of interorganizational relationships (Harquail & King, 2010; Hatch, 1997; Hatch & Schultz, 2002) and embodied practices (Varela, Thompson, & Rosch, 1991). Throughout experiences of collective sensemaking, organizations interpose mini-narratives as evidence of reciprocal patterns of social structuring revealing cooperative behaviors interweaving coordinated actions and setting conditions for the structuring of collaborative integrating nets of collective action. This supports both Carniawska's (2008) and Weick's (1995) theory of organizing during collective sensemaking as enacted processes within relational conceptualizations and perceptions. These findings contribute to understanding the dynamics of collective sensemaking and social structuring; moreover, they incorporate the new paradigm of enaction (Kuhn, 1996; Stewart, Gapenne, & Di Paolo, 2010) as embodied sensemaking into organizational theory.