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  • 1.
    Bäcklander, Gisela
    KTH, School of Industrial Engineering and Management (ITM), Industrial Economics and Management (Dept.), Industrial Management.
    Autonomous, yet Aligned: Challenges of Self-Leadership in Context2019Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
    Abstract [en]

    In this thesis, I add to theories of management of knowledge work at the micro-level, by an examination of self-leadership in knowledge work and organizational attempts to foster it at the individual and team levels, in the empirical settings of innovative software development, consultants, and activity based working; the methods are mainly interviews and thematic analysis (I-III), and survey and statistical analysis (IV). The main research question has been: How can organizations support sustainable and productive self-leadership in their employees?

       In paper I, a ‘seeing work’-skill emerged in all interviews with managers, implicating situational judgment and attention as core to what is ultimately seen as successful self-direction. In paper II, consultants indicate the expectation to “infer” demands as leading to internalization of demands and seeing oneself as a source of stress. While consultants expressed a belief in internal self-discipline strategies of a more reactive nature to self-lead, in fact, external and proactive strategies (selecting or modifying the working environment) were the most effective in practice, echoing recent research on limited self-regulatory resources.

       Paper IV examined quantitatively the hypothesis, based on papers I & II, that having timely access to work relevant information (“information richness”) would have a stronger relationship with lower cognitive stress and better performance, than internal, self-focused self-leadership strategies, in the setting of Activity Based Working Environments where employees have high autonomy to decide how, where, when, and with whom to perform work. This hypothesis was confirmed, suggesting that when organizational situations cannot be strongly structured, for example because the best work process is not known, or innovation or different collaboration constellations are needed, they need instead to be enriched so that employee orientation and co-ordination does not become too much of a burden on the individual employee, disrupting cognitive functioning and performance.

       Paper III is a case study of agile coaches at Spotify and how they practise enabling leadership, a key balancing force of complexity leadership theory (Uhl-Bien, Marion, & McKelvey, 2007). Coaches practise enabling leadership by increasing the context‐sensitivity of others, supporting other leaders, establishing and reinforcing simple principles, observing group dynamics, surfacing conflict and facilitating and encouraging constructive dialogue. The AC as complexity leader values being present, observing and reacting in the moment. Findings suggest flexible structure provided by an attentive coach may prove a fruitful way to navigate and balance autonomy and alignment in organizations.

       The re-conceptualization of self-leadership in this thesis points to the importance for the individual of 1) being able to navigate ”weak situations” and to ”see” or ”create” one’s own work tasks so as to make a valuable contribution to the organization, and 2) for the ability to offload cognitive demands onto the environment, in a broad sense. Supporting self-leadership, then, would mean supporting these two main mechanisms. And with a resource perspective, organizations can offer support by building or offering resources, of various kinds, that allow for employees to have more resources to spare for where and when they are truly needed.

  • 2.
    Bäcklander, Gisela
    KTH, School of Industrial Engineering and Management (ITM), Industrial Economics and Management (Dept.).
    Doing Complexity Leadership Theory: How agile coaches at Spotify practice enabling leadership2019In: Creativity and Innovation Management, ISSN 0963-1690, E-ISSN 1467-8691, Vol. 28, no 1, p. 42-60Article in journal (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    Complexity leadership theory (CLT) is about balancing formal and informal organisation to leverage dynamics of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) and produce learning, creativity, and adaptation in organisations. Based on interviews with sixteen agile coaches (AC) at Spotify, this study examines how AC practice enabling leadership, a key balancing force in complexity leadership. Coaches practice enabling leadership by increasing the context-sensitivity of others, supporting other leaders, establishing and reinforcing simple principles, observing group dynamics, surfacing conflict and facilitating and encouraging constructive dialogue. The AC as complexity leader values being present,observing and reacting in the moment. Findings suggest flexible structure provided by an attentive coach may prove a fruitful way to navigate and balance autonomy and alignment in organisations.

  • 3.
    Bäcklander, Gisela
    KTH, School of Industrial Engineering and Management (ITM), Industrial Economics and Management (Dept.).
    To see or not to see: Importance of sensemaking in employee self-direction2019In: Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, ISSN 2245-0157, E-ISSN 2245-0157, Vol. 9, no 2, p. 25-45Article in journal (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    Being self-directed is one of the most sought-after employee attributes. The present study examines managers’ approaches to and conceptualization of employee self-directedness through semi-structured interviews with 13 managers from five companies in the Stockholm area. Analysis suggests two different emphases in trying to increase self-direction, with differing underlying assumptions: an evaluation emphasis where self-direction is conceptualized as an inherent property of the individual, and a cultivation emphasis suggesting a more interactionist perspective of self-direction as an emergent behavior based on the interaction of individual and situational characteristics. Further, a “seeing work”-skill emerged in all interviews, implicating situational judgment and attention as core to what is ultimately seen as successful self-direction. Managers with a cultivation emphasis mentioned as viable tactics those focused on supporting sensemaking and thus enriching the working situation to enable better discretionary situational judgements.

  • 4.
    Bäcklander, Gisela
    et al.
    KTH, School of Industrial Engineering and Management (ITM), Industrial Economics and Management (Dept.), Industrial Management.
    Rosengren, Calle
    Kaulio, Matti
    KTH, School of Industrial Engineering and Management (ITM), Industrial Economics and Management (Dept.).
    Managing Intensity in Knowledge Work: Self-Leadership Practices among Danish Management ConsultantsIn: Journal of Management and Organization, ISSN 1833-3672, E-ISSN 1839-3527Article in journal (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    This paper examines the sources of knowledge workers’ work intensity and the self-leading strategies they apply to deal with it. The paper is based on focus group interviews with management consultants in a Danish management consultancy firm. Work intensity was identified as resulting from a combination of: (1) a results-only focus, (2) vagueness, (3) boundaryless work, and (4) low control of the quantitative load. A framework for self-leading strategies is developed based on the dimensions of reactive/proactive and self-focused/externally-focused strategies in different combinations. The results indicate that while consultants expressed a belief in internal self-discipline strategies of a more reactive nature, in fact, external and proactive strategies were the most effective in practice. In conclusion, the paper contributes to an extension of self-leadership theory to better account for current research on self-control.

  • 5.
    Bäcklander, Gisela
    et al.
    KTH, School of Industrial Engineering and Management (ITM), Industrial Economics and Management (Dept.), Industrial Management.
    Rosengren, Calle
    Kaulio, Matti
    KTH, School of Industrial Engineering and Management (ITM), Industrial Economics and Management (Dept.).
    Managing Intensity in Knowledge Work: Self-Leadership Practices among Danish Management ConsultantsIn: Journal of Management and Organization, ISSN 1833-3672, E-ISSN 1839-3527Article in journal (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    This paper examines the sources of knowledge workers’ work intensity and the self-leading strategies they apply to deal with it. The paper is based on focus group interviews with management consultants in a Danish management consultancy firm. Work intensity was identified as resulting from a combination of: (1) a results-only focus, (2) vagueness, (3) boundaryless work, and (4) low control of the quantitative load. A framework for self-leading strategies is developed based on the dimensions of reactive/proactive and self-focused/externally-focused strategies in different combinations. The results indicate that while consultants expressed a belief in internal self-discipline strategies of a more reactive nature, in fact, external and proactive strategies were the most effective in practice. In conclusion, the paper contributes to an extension of self-leadership theory to better account for current research on self-control.

  • 6.
    Bäcklander, Gisela
    et al.
    KTH, School of Industrial Engineering and Management (ITM), Industrial Economics and Management (Dept.).
    Rosengren, Calle
    Lunds Universitet.
    Lid Falkman, Lena
    Handelshögskolan.
    Stenfors, Cecilia
    Karolinska Institutet.
    Seddigh, Aram
    Stressforskningsinstitutet.
    Osika, Walter
    Karolinska Institutet.
    Stenström, Emma
    Handelshögskolan.
    Navigating the Activity Based Working Environment – Relationships of Self-Leadership, Autonomy and Information Richness with Cognitive Stress and Performance2019In: Scandinavian Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, E-ISSN 2002-2867Article in journal (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    In Activity Based Working Environment (ABWE) offices, employees are allowed increased autonomy and are expected to choose where, when, with whom, and to some degree with what, to work; in other words, employees are expected to self-lead to a higher degree and to coordinate and align with colleagues. Effects of these expectations on employees’ cognitive stress and performance are understudied. In the present study, Swedish ABWE workers (N = 416) are compared with workers in cell offices (N = 30) and landscape offices (N = 64), and relationships of self-leadership, information richness, and autonomy with cognitive stress and performance were examined using regression analysis. Results show no relationship between office type and outcomes. For cognitive stress, information richness had the largest negative relationship, followed by self-leadership: goal-setting and autonomy. For performance, self-leadership: goal-setting had the largest positive relationship, followed by information richness. This suggests that when organizational situations cannot be strongly structured – for example because the best work process is not known, or innovation or different collaboration constellations are needed – they need instead to be enriched so that employee orientation and coordination do not become too much of a burden on the individual employee, disrupting cognitive functioning and performance.

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