Event management and work team effectiveness in Japan, Britain and USA

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Date: Mar. 1994
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 4,402 words

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It has recently been proposed that a valuable concept for the analysis of organizational behaviour is that of event management (Peterson, 1991; Smith & Peterson, 1988). According to this approach, events are all those elements in an organizational setting which are given meaning by some party in the organization. The management of events will frequently involve negotiating the way in which other parties give meaning to these same events. This may entail influencing other parties or being influenced by them since, by choosing to interact with a given party over the handling of a particular event, one opens up the possibility of mutual influence.

In contrast to many discussions of management processes, for instance those formulated by theorists of leadership, the notion of event management has no implicit connotations of control or hierarchy. Neither does it make the rationalistic assumption underlying much decision-making theory that choices are deliberate, consciously recognized or publicly announced. It refers simply to organization members' accounts of how they guide their actions.

Persons may 'manage' the events which they encounter through relying on their own experience and training, or they may refer to manuals, established procedures, or other people. For instance, a quality problem in assembly-line production might be managed by a supervisor alone on the basis of prior training, by consulting one's boss, by consulting specialists, by consulting peers, etc. An initial study found substantial differences in the event management methods reported by employees in different countries. These differences appeared even though work in the various electronics assembly plants studied was structured in closely similar ways (Peterson, Smith, Bond & Misumi, 1990). In particular, it was found that Japanese workers were more likely to seek guidance from co-workers as to how to manage events. In contrast, workers in the USA and Hong Kong referred more to their superior, while those in Britain relied more on their own experience and training.

The interest of such findings depends upon whether they have significance for organizational performance. One view might be that national differences in sources of guidance are merely cultural epiphenomena. Use of one source or another may not affect success in achieving the organization's goals. On this view, organizational success would be determined by factors that transcend national culture, such as technological or commercial imperatives. The present study used plants all engaged in similar semi-automated assembly of electronics consumer products. Tasks included semi-skilled and skilled jobs such as machine loading and operation, monitoring gauges, product inspection, maintenance and materials handling. Western technology-based contingency theories would argue that, regardless of location, the relatively routinized events occurring in this type of work are best managed through reference to manuals, to superiors and possibly to co-workers (Galbraith, 1973; Manz & Sims, 1987). Technological considerations thus suggest a first or 'culture-free' hypothesis:

The culture-free event management hypothesis: Regardless of country, work team performance will be positively related to reliance on manuals and supervisors and negatively related to reliance on unwritten policy and own experience and training. A hypothesis concerning co-workers...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A15311675