• Seminars

    The Work and Organization Studies group is a hub for the study of work, employment, and organizations, and is host to one of the longest-running seminar series at MIT. These weekly seminars attract researchers from across the Institute and around the world. Unless otherwise noted, OS seminars are held from 11:00-12:30 pm on Thursdays in E62-350 and IWER seminars take place from 12:30-2:20 pm on Tuesdays in E62-346.

    *Please be aware that we are having technical difficulties with our mailing list. We are working with IS&T to fix this problem. In the meantime, please check your email inbox for a communication from Patty Curley/OS Seminar on the morning of Monday, March 27. If you did not receive an email regarding the OS Seminar on March 27 from Patty, please contact Helen Yap at helenyap@mit.eduThank you and we apologize for the inconvenience.* 

  • OS Seminars
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    Date Event
    February 16, 2017 Eitan Naveh - Israel Institute of Technology, Industrial Engineering and Management at the Technion

    Errors in organizations: An integrative approach

    Errors are a recurring fact of organizational life and can potentially yield either adverse or positive consequences. Although we have learned much about errors in specific research areas across specific organizational contexts, we know little about how multifaceted forces in organizations, especially when they contradict each other, might affect the pathways of errors in organizations. With this situation in mind, I will present an integrative approach to errors that summarizes conceptual foundations and empirical findings. I will focus on three dimensions,namely (1) level of analysis – the degree to which errors are attributed to the individual (e.g.,individual employee) or collective actors (e.g., teams, units); (2) temporal dynamism – the degree to which organizational emphasis is put before,during, and after an error occurs; and (3) priority – the degree to which conflicting priorities are assigned to error coping strategies. Elaborating on these dimensions, I will present my empirical research findings about the specific consequences to errors concerning the multilevel fit of individual traits and team climate, team composition, tensions between learning and error elimination climates, and standardization rigidity and discretion. I will discuss discrepancies, inconsistencies,and opportunities for research synthesis. 

    February 23, 2017 Alexandra Michel - The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

    How Organizations Produce Persons, Including Biologies: A 15-Year Ethnography of Wall Street Bankers

    The planned talk presents a 15-year ethnography, tracking four cohorts of investment bankers starting from entry into two Wall Street investment banks throughout their subsequent careers at other firms. 

    I discuss two interdependent innovations in ethnographic methods that this data set necessitated: (1) Multisite work, which was required to track bankers who diffused into different organizations when they left the banks, and (2) autoethnographic elements, designed to examine deep levels of cultural shaping, on which participants could not self-report, and add depth to the thinness of multisite research.

    I document the co-evolution of the bankers’ activities and human functioning, including psychology and embodiment: how what one does shapes who one is, “down” to the biological level. I focus on one particular trajectory in a subset of bankers, which showed the greatest contrast in work activity and therefore in human functioning, involving: (1) Extreme work schedules that bankers carried with them and reproduced in their new employers and that (2) lead to repeated and eventually incapacitating physical breakdowns in mid-life, forcing bankers to (3) experiment with innovative ways of living and working to accommodate their physical condition, which required them to leave organizations and (4) engage in physical activity to heal, culminating in participation inelite sports and a concomitant radical reshaping of psychology and biology, such as “aging backward,” that challenges our assumptions of whatis possible.

    Psychology focuses on fixity. It examines the universal principles of the human mind only, neglecting the body. In contrast, this data set affords analysis of human plasticity. It shows that and how under new cultural and historical conditions, basic psychological and biological functions can manifest in new ways. Even though biology is often viewed as the epitome of the fixed, the data shows that biologies are local. Knowledge-based organizations are where local biologies are produced because people are shaped by the work that they do and because these organizations involve participants in all-encompassing work schedules, cutting off other socializing influences.

    March 9, 2017 Leslie Perlow - Harvard Business School

    Untangling the Temporal Paradox:Shifting from an Individual to Collective Orientation to Time

    Knowledge professionals are caught in a temporal paradox: Being a professional means having autonomy and control while success in the knowledge economy means being responsive and fully committed to one’s work 24-7.  Drawing on a multi-year ethnographic study with an intervention component, this paper describes the social and temporal mechanisms that perpetuate the temporal paradox.  It further describes the possibility of untangling the temporal paradox: changing work practices, norms and values, and shifting from an individual to a collective orientation to time. The findings bring together a long history of research on temporal structures revolving around time as an individual resource with the notion of heedful interrelating (Weick and Roberts, 1993) conceptualizing both a collective temporal orientation and managing time as a shared resource.  The findings have theoretical and practical implications for improving individuals’ work lives and creating change in organizations.  

    April 6, 2017 Beth Bechky - NYU Stern

    The specter of testifying: Forensic scientists as advocates for the evidence

    In this presentation, I describe forensic scientists’ feelings about testifying, which reflect the underlying tensions created as they navigated the worlds of science and criminal justice simultaneously.  While forensic scientists defined themselves as a scientific community, their work was evaluated with respect to its application in the criminal justice community. They struggled when confronted with the different norms of science and law, which led to some resentment of attorneys and ambivalence about their participation in the courtroom. More significantly, their identification as scientists (and with science) made them highly sensitive to the technical accuracy of their analysis, which often came into conflict with legal principles and practices for evidence.  Moreover, as partial members of the community of criminal justice, forensic scientists felt a sense of isolation and exclusion from the process of testifying.  Tracing how these tensions manifested in the specter of testifying helps us to understand the evaluation of expertise and the influence of emotion in institutional processes. 

    April 13, 2017 Andrew Knight - Olin School of Business, Washington University

    Organizational Affective Tone: A Meso Perspective on the Origins and Effects of Consistent Affective Experiences in Organizations

    Grounded in an open systems perspective, we build and test new theory about how the kinds of industries in which an organization participates influences organizational affective tone and connects to workforce strain. We propose that the more an organization’s activities lie in consumer-centric industries (e.g., service, retail), the more positive and less negative the organization’s affective tone. We connect consumer-centric industry participation and affective tone by explaining how personnel policies and organizational structure generate and sustain consistent positive and negative affective experiences throughout an organization. Additionally, we examine the effects of organizational affective tone on workforce strain. The results of a survey-based study of 24,015 human resource managers, top management team members, and employees of 161 firms largely support our predictions. We discuss the implications of considering macro contextual factors for understanding affective dynamics in organizations.

    April 20, 2017 Klaus Weber - Kellogg School of Management

    Globalization in action: Technology entrepreneurship in Kenya

    May 4, 2017 Vanessa Conzon - MIT Sloan School

    Managing Experts: Reintegrative Shamingof Expert Contractors

    Using data from a 16-month ethnographic study of PRU, a research unit in a pharmaceutical company, I examine how managers successfully manage expert contractors. Although these expert scientists perform essential work in advancing PRU’s drug development projects, they often act in ways that impede project progress. The literature on expert control suggests that these challenges can be overcome by using management tactics such as socialization, instrumental rewards, and instrumental punishments. However, these tactics are difficult to implement when experts are employed outside of the firm. I show how managers can manage expert contractors through a process of reintegrative shaming, in which the manager first shames the expert professional for appearing to violate a shared scientific and occupational norm, and then provides the expert with an opportunity to correct his or her actions so that they align with the community’s expectations and the firm’s interests. By invoking publicly shared norms of scientific practice, reintegrative shaming enables the firm to control expert contractors.

    May 11, 2017 Michèle Lamont - Harvard University
    May 25, 2017 Heather Yang - MIT Sloan School

    Matching faces to expectations: The impact of domain differences in gendered expectations of appearance

    Prior research has demonstrated that women who appear congruent with their gender role (i.e., look feminine) are penalized for their appearance in business contexts. However, a separate body of research, predominantly centered on electoral outcomes, has put forth conflicting results demonstrating that facial femininity for women can be beneficial. In a series of experimental studies, I aim to resolve the conflict in the literature by proposing a domain-expectation matching hypothesis. I propose that, although both domains are associated with masculine characteristics, contexts within the political domain are associated with fewer masculine characteristics than contexts within the business domain, and as a result, perceivers prefer less masculine facial appearances for political leaders than for business leaders. The findings of the studies add to the gender bias literature that examines the impact of circumstances that make gender and professional roles discrepant to each other on consequential outcomes, such as hiring and electoral outcomes.

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  • IWER Seminars