Managing Sensemaking: An inquiry into how organizational members break, demand, make and give sense to cope with change

Louise Ankerstjerne

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis aims at creating an understanding of how organizational members in the volunteer organization Save the Children Youth Denmark (SCY) make sense of a change in their organization. Thus I have worked towards answering the research questions: 1) how do organizational members make sense of the organizational change in SCY? And 2) how is this sensemaking influenced and facilitated by the management groups in the organization? Two assumptions lie behind these formulations. Firstly, that organizational members make sense in different ways because sensemaking is based on individual knowledge, and secondly, that management and particularly middle managers play a crucial role in giving sense to and influencing the sensemaking processes of others. Since the goal is to create an understanding of the case organization, the scientific paradigm of the thesis is social constructivism, which favours qualitative methods. Through a triangulation of interviewing, observing and analyzing organizational documents I conducted a three-part analysis showing in detail how the board, the middle managers and the volunteers went through their sensemaking processes by breaking, demanding, making and giving sense. The answer to the first research question is that organizational members made sense of the change in their organization, with different conclusions. The board who initiated the change found that it corresponded well with their objectives for the organization. Both middle managers and regular volunteers however found that this change and the strategy it was a part of was misplaced and that there was a more pressing need for dealing with the values of the organization and through that to improve the coherency, transparency and spirit of the organization. The answer to the second research questions is that management groups in the organization were indispensible in influencing and facilitating the sensemaking of others. But seeing as the groups in the organization reached different understandings of the sensemaking object, these management groups had clearly failed in aiding other organizational members with their sensemaking efforts. The analysis showed that the reason for this was that there was no clear strategy from the board on how to break sense for others and when confronted with sensedemanding from others, both board members and middle managers were unable to give sufficient sense. The discussion of these results led to some recommendations for the board of the organization, for example to start up different initiatives to accommodate the members’ wishes for a more coherent organization

EducationsMSc in Strategy, Organization and Leadership, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2012
Number of pages114