Jenny Helin

Living moments in family meetings: A process study in the family business context

by Jenny Helin
Jönköping International Business School
April 2011

Top management meetings, board meetings, budget meetings, planning meetings, strategy retreats and weekly updates – the organizational world is certainly a world of organized meetings where various kinds of meeting practices are often focal points for people related to the organization.

This dissertation studies meetings processually. Acknowledging the fluid, often uncertain and inherently open aspects of organizational phenomena is receiving increasing attention in organization and management studies. Such an approach, which can be labelled ‘process organization studies’ is promising in that it directs attention to social processes continuously in the making, something that is often neglected in mainstream organization studies.

The thesis builds on the current development in process organization studies in two ways. The first centres on an elaboration on key assumptions of approaching organizational life from a process perspective. I here bridge process organization studies with Bakhtin’s work on dialogue into a dialogical becoming perspective. This perspective calls for a distinct way of understanding processes of becoming which makes it possible to explore meeting practices as situated, emerging and relational world-making activities.

The second is a comprehensive processual account based on a collaborative field study with two owner families. Organized meetings held in a family that owns a business (or several) has proved to be of importance for family business longevity in that the family members can help to develop strong family relations and a healthy business. In this setting, where people are dealing with that which is often most important to them in life, such as their identity, work, family relationships and future wealth, a process approach is useful since it helps to understand the emotionally loaded, complex and intertwined issues at stake.

What emerges as central in understanding movement and flow is the need to understand the here and now moments in meetings. I refer to these moments as ‘living moments’ as a reminder of the once-occurring, unique and momentary transformation that can take place between people in such encounters. Thus, the living moment is the moment of movement. In emphasizing the ‘livingness’ of meeting conversations this study gives voice to previously marginalized perspectives that complement existing research on meeting practices.