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Only Time will Tell

Abstract : How can research take account of the subjective experience of time of organizational members when they are thrown into a hostile, complex, and fast-changing environment? Time is considered as a central feature of sensemaking in these conditions, either as a key resource that permits or impedes interactions and collective sensemaking of organizational members when confronted with an interruption in the flow of their activities (Weick, 1993; Quinn and Worline, 2009); or as an material constrain that makes some action impossible (e.g. reach the top of Mt Everest after 12 O’Clock (Krakauer, 1997; Kayes, 2004; Tempest, Starkey, & Ennew, 2007). In this perspective, research refers to time as the objective clock time, i.e. duration, speed or hour, which can easily be taken into account through the use of standardized measure (calendar, hour, minute, second) and chronology (see Langley, 1999). While making an important step towards a better understanding of how events and actions interrelate in time, such descriptions ignore temporality i.e. how past, present and future are experienced by organizational members, how this experience shapes the meaning they ascribe to present, and how this may frame their possibilities of action (Weick, 1995; Hernes, Simpson and Söderlund, 2013). With Hernes (2014) and Weick (1995), we follow Mead (1938) and consider that the experience of time comes from a disruption in the flow of actions (see also Simpson, 2009); an interruption that is an occasion for emergence of new meanings and new possibilities of action, as one seeks to make sense of what is happening, and “the past is reconstructed to support an anticipated future” (Hernes et al., 2013). In this perspective, understanding how organizational members experience time when thrown into a hostile, fast-changing environment may shed lights on how they make sense of the world around them and take decisions and actions. Departing from a chronological, objective account of time, this research aims to investigate how, confronted with an interruption in the flow of their experience, organizational members make sense of the interruption, together with past and future. We rely on two in-depth case studies conducted on two commercial expeditions: one to Broad Peak in Pakistan and one to Antartica. The case studies investigate the interactions between weather forecasters and the expedition leader during summit attempts. Since the late 90’s, mountaineering has used the latest communication technologies (i.e., usually the internet at Base Camp, and mobile and sat phones at higher altitudes) and weather forecasts. Commercial expeditions are increasingly assisted by professional forecasters – located worldwide – who send them daily updated weather forecasts that detail the various ascent parameters. Temperature, humidity, wind, and risks of snowfall and storms are estimated for the next few hours and days at different altitudes and for the particular slope of the mountain where the team is located. These forecasts are communicated by email, SMS, and phone calls. They can take the form of plain text (in emails), abbreviations (in SMS), or graphics (maps, windgrams, or meteograms: see Appendix 1 for an example). These forecasts are crucial at high altitudes and areas where weather conditions are extremely volatile. Even if not 100% reliable, these forecasts limit the risk of being trapped in bad weather conditions by alerting the team leader, so that they have the possibility of stopping before the weather deteriorates. Weather forecasts can also indicate favorable conditions for a few days, opening up the possibility for the team to reach the summit. We will here focus on interruptions, i.e. when, during summit attempts, the forecasters revise the weather predictions from good to uncertain/indeterminate weather. Relying on e-mails and sms exchanges between the team leader and the forecasters, as well as in-depth interviews conducted before and after the expedition, we analyze how equivocal weather forecasts are made sense of, and to what extent these interpretations depend on how the future and past are ‘decided’. The contribution of the research is threefold: First, it shows how the future, i.e. expectations of good weather formed when the forecaster announced a possible window, frames how the team leader makes sense of equivocal information. Second, mitigating prior research, our study underlines that past experiences of bad weather forecasts are not mobilized when confronted with ambiguous weather reports; so that the past seems to be present selectively, in the form of optimistic expectations made up on the basis past forecasts only. Third, following Simpson (2009) reading of Mead’s work, we suggest that this selective presence of the past and future is the result of the intra-individual dialogue that the team leader maintains between his parts of “me” – that correspond to his professional identity as a guide (and the related habits of conduct acquired reflexively) and the “I” - that could introduce divergence / resistance to the actions of “me”.
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Submitted on : Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 5:46:24 PM
Last modification on : Friday, January 21, 2022 - 3:35:19 AM


  • HAL Id : hal-01490736, version 1



Florence Allard-Poesi. Only Time will Tell. 2nd Workshop on Doing Research on Extreme Environments, Umeå School of Business and Economics, Jan 2016, Umeå, Sweden. ⟨hal-01490736⟩



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