Meta-managing: A Study on How Superiors and Subordinates Manage Their Relationship in Everyday Work
Abstract: In virtually every organization we find formally appointed managers, but nevertheless we tend to condemn the idea of formal hierarchy and celebrate alternative modes of governance that better respect the discretion of employees. This tension, that seemingly surrounds the vertical dimension of contemporary organizations, forms the backdrop of this study which examines how superiors and subordinates in a Swedish bank manage their relationship in everyday work. The relationship between superiors and subordinates has previously been explored in the literature on management and leadership. In these two streams, the former tends to describe vertical relations as if they were determined by the formal authority of managers, whereas the latter is prone to disregard the impact of the formal context, focusing instead on informal organizing principles that are argued to replace the authority of managers. The present study, in contrast, does not presume a particular organizing principle. Instead it explores how superiors and subordinates construct their relationship in everyday work-interactions, and it shows how those interactions balance formal authority and informal organizing principles. To make sense of this balancing act, the study suggests the notion of meta-managing. The concept draws our attention to how the everyday process of managing work is also a process of managing vertical relations. More specifically, meta-managing allows superiors and subordinates to satisfy the need for both formal hierarchy and employee discretion in work, and in doing so, it helps them to deal with other contradictory demands they face as part of daily life in the organization. Through these propositions, the study provides a link between the two perspectives on vertical relations that we currently find in the management and leadership literature.
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