A Discussion on Representing Organizations and Teams as Cognitive Systems
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Viewing organizations/work-groups/teams as cognitive systems that process information is either a prevalent perspective or a tacit assumption in many management studies with a long history (Hayek, 1949; Simon, 1945). In this research, first, ontology of cognitive system (or cognition) will be discussed in the context of organizations and organizational behavior. It will be exhibited in the light of the literature that different approaches on this subject affect research methods, findings and interpretations of these findings in management sciences, especially in the organizational behavior literature. The two main distinctions in this regard are as follows. 1- Cognition as information processing and symbol manipulation and organization is the information processor. In other words, the mental representation of the world is based on symbols (representationalist perspective). 2- The anti-representationalist: the external world is not a collection of given facts independent from the individual minds of agents or collective mind of groups, but merely a construction by our given or emerging knowledge structures, the environment and the action are situational/contingent. Accordingly, there is a conflict between the notion of tacit knowledge and the representationalist symbol-processing cognitivist view (Tsoukas, 2005). Another distinction emerges when we analyze the activities of teams/work-groups as information processing and knowledge production activities, below the organizational level of analysis, at the group level. As a consequence of the assumption, considering team cognition as information content, a product/output, and investigating as such, is a specific ontological attitude. However, grounding the team cognition as an emergent phenomenon, of collection of processes and actions during collaboration is an alternative approach and research paradigm, which considers the cognition as the process of collaborative interaction (Cooke et.al 2012). At the organizational level of analysis, this second approach is consistent with focusing on “organizational knowing” rather than organizational knowledge (Cook & Brown, 1999; Orlikowski, 2002).
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