The Non-Addressable Meta-Organization and Its Contribution to High Reliability

Monday, 11 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 17 (Juridicum)
Distributed Paper
Michael GROTHE-HAMMER, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
Today, there is a well-established research stream about so-called “High-Reliability Organizations” (HROs) within Organization Studies (e.g. Bigley/Roberts 2001; Weick/Sutcliffe 2015). HROs are organizations that implement specific processes of reliability in the avoidance and the containment of failures and unexpected catastrophic events. However, research on high reliability is, thus far, mainly focusing on classical single organizations or organizational units. Although there have been a few attempts to broaden this view to at least include organizational networks, no-one has yet asked if and how new forms of organization could contribute to high reliability.

From this standpoint, we will report on our findings from a qualitative field study. Building on Ahrne and Brunsson’s (2005) work, we will show how firms, public organizations, and administrative agencies form what we call a Non-Addressable Meta-Organization (NAMO). In our specific case, this NAMO is concerned with the ongoing organizing of large-scale events at a multi-functional arena, and corresponding safety-related issues.

In this respect, we make three crucial contributions to the existing research. First, we will present our theoretical concept of the NAMO. On this basis, we will secondly point out how this specific form of organizing allows the participating organizations to implement permanent, robust—and thereby reliable—meta-organizational structures (hierarchies, rules, positions, and communication channels) while posing as just a network. These characteristics produce an interesting phenomenon: while the NAMO can act as an organization, and thereby produce collective decisions, it is not addressable as a single system for externals. In this sense, it has no responsive boundary. Accordingly, we will thirdly show how this allows the NAMO to decouple its safety-related decisions and reliability processes from problematic external demands such as political and economic influences—which is usually treated as problematic when it comes to public safety (e.g. Rockett 1994; Henstra 2010).