2011 Academy of Management Annual Meeting
West Meets East: Enlightening, Balancing, Transcending
Managing the Paradoxes and Polarities of Organizational Change
The Wisdom of Both-And: Using Polarity Management to Make Sense of and Utilize Paradoxical Tension
Author: Brian Emerson; Fielding Graduate University.;
Author: Nancy C. Wallis; Fielding Graduate University;
As the complexity of organizations rises, it becomes imperative for theorists and leaders to increase their ability to make sense of organizational paradoxes. While scholars have examined the phenomenon of inherent opposites, few have conducted research on how organizations can practically and effectively manage and harness the power of the on-going tensions by which they are continuously plagued. This is surprising, given numerous cultures throughout history have understood the world as inherently paradoxical. Taoists and other Eastern cultures for example, see paradoxical opposites as being intrinsically interrelated—each necessary for the other to exist, and both necessary for the good of the whole. Conversely, in the West, and by English speakers specifically, these opposites are often separated into either/or dichotomies, for despite their prevalence in the world, the English language does not adequately capture the true nature or power of polarities. This article contributes to emerging research in this field. Using differentiation and integration as a frame, this analysis examines organizational paradox, how it impacts the systems of which it is a part, and the need for organizations to make sense of the phenomenon to effectively manage the dilemma. This discussion raises the fact that little information or guidance exists in the scholarly realm to assist organizations in their efforts to deal with inherent oppositional forces. Finally, we suggest that polarity management can be used as a sensemaking tool to help organizations effectively harness the positive power of paradoxical tensions. The article concludes with a case study.
Keywords: Polarity Management, Organizational Paradox, Differentiation Integration