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Anyone have experience of a hiring a Social Anthropologist?

F

flyin01

#1
Hi,

Does anyone have experience of hiring a social antropologist into a large corporation to perform a study on why people do like the do in the daily work within the company?

I want to know of cases where a social anthropologist have conducted studies to discover patterns of behaviour and how people communicate within and organization that is not easily observed by others inside the company.

I have heard that they might implement tools for measuring email flows, meeting culture, who talks to who, etc. I would like to hear more facts and specific examples from someone who has been involved in this kind of activities. Are there any social antrhopologist out there who can shed some light on this matter?

Anyone have cases from real companies and also what institutes might provide this type of services?
What information was revealed with this kind of studies?
Before and after scenarios.

[edited]
 
Last edited by a moderator:
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Wes Bucey

Quite Involved in Discussions
#2
Is this a real world requirement for a corporation you are working with/for?

If yes, contact some university department heads (anthropology and/or sociology) and ask for some referrals.

If it is not OK (top boss authorization) to hire such consultant, yet, what has occasioned the topic? Is the organization in question experiencing some problems or is this part of continual evaluation with an eye toward improvement? Besides the metrics which might result, what do you propose to do next? Do you have a benchmark that you want to meet? Or is this one of those "it seemed like a good idea when I was driving to work this morning" sort of queries?

If everything is still sort of hazy and vague, maybe your organization needs a strategy consultant to help them frame the question in relation to the holistic needs of the organization - think of Deming's theory about a System of Profound Knowledge (SoPK.)
 

Randy

Super Moderator
#3
Sounds like more touchy, feely stuff in the never ending effort to waste already limited resources within an organization...In the end our learned professional will find out that there are 2 primary motivators from which all others are derived..Sensual satisfaction and Power and really power is just another way to gain sensual satisfaction...It makes ya feel good!

After you spend a couple years working the streets as a cop all this social anthropology and everything becomes second hat

Dude probably studied good ol' Abe Mazlow into the wee hours
 
F

flyin01

#4
Hi Wes,

This is not a requirement.

Background. There was a new strategy directive from top managemt. It consisted of three areas. One of them adressed the internal communication and how efficiently the organization communicates and how can this be improved. But there was not content in the strategy yet. Only the topics as headers. The idea is to let the different parts of the organization come up with activities that are related to the focus areas.

One activity that was brought up was to try to shed some light on for example why members of department A are averse to communicating with department B.
This is a notion and there is probably some truth in it. But there is no way to measure or present facts on if/why people within one deparment behave in one way, while another deparment have a different way of going about their business.

Also there is a suggestion to promote across deparment behaviour. To promote employee to communicate across different areas. But to go there it is necessary to understand where the organization is right now. How different parts of it behave today. What are the differences, etc.

The idea of a social anthropologist is sort of hazy and vague because no one at the company has any experience from it. Only word of mouth from others.

But I might just contact a nearby university like you suggested.
Thanks!
 

Marc

Hunkered Down for the Duration with a Mask on...
Staff member
Admin
#5
<snip> Also there is a suggestion to promote across deparment behaviour. To promote employee to communicate across different areas. But to go there it is necessary to understand where the organization is right now. How different parts of it behave today. What are the differences, etc. <snip>
One way I have seen companies deal with this as a long term strategy was through rotating employees through different departments. Each year each employee would take a position in another department of the company for a year. This was (and I assume still is) a very big part of grooming a person for upper management.

In college my minors were chemistry and anthropology (focusing on cultural anthropology and comparative analysis of religions courses). It's been a long time, but here are my thoughts.

What you are seeing in the company is associated with tribal/clan (aka departments or functional units) relationships. I've never seen a way to break the barriers in a significant way in large companies. These barriers are rare in companies of under 40 to 50 people. As a company approaches 100 people divisions begin to establish themselves much the same as in extended families where the focus group (the nuclear family - mother, father and siblings) is close but as one extends out into extended family cohesion and communication starts to drop off. For example, look at families and you will see where one nuclear family in a clan will have emotional bonds due to "blood" with other nuclear families. As the family lines play out (think family tree) further these bonds begin to break down as, for example, one nuclear family may be very religious while that family's father's brother's nuclear family is not. They are related by "blood" (aka breeding aka the "family tree") but they are very different.

This is not to say that even in a nuclear family there won't be significant differences in relationships. For example, girls tend to bond closer to their mother (looking at a number of years rather than occasional short term disturbances) than their father or a brother or a sister). In the extreme there are the cases of brother against brother (even in the news of late out of Libya where family feuds have been exposed - read the Coca-Cola story). It's not unusual to read about where (as an example) a brother kills his brother over something as simple as the last piece of pie at a family gathering. It's not even particularly an issue of "power" - It's typically more of an issue of personal greed and that person's perception of what is theirs vs. what is not theirs. But as a nuclear family (or a clan for that matter) vs. "the outside world", when a threat to the nuclear family or clan occurs the nuclear family (or clan) tends to regroup and put their internal differences aside (at least until the threat from the outside has passed) to confront the threat. We see the same sort of thing when we look at what is happening in places like Afghanistan and Libya, as well as many other states based upon tribes/clans such as Iraq. In these places religion typically plays a big part in the clan/tribe aspect playing a role in cohesion of a clan/tribe across "blood" relationships as the size of the clan/tribe increases. If you look at the world, though more so in years past, the essential binding forces in a society (a very large clan/tribe) were (and are) "family" and religion and territory.

One thing I think is interesting is asking people in the US what their priorities are given a short list of: Country (nationalism), Religion, Family, State, Self. My mother valued country over family and family over religion. Then came Self. State was last in her world view. I have a friend who says his priority is religion, family, self, country, state. Another is family, self, country, religion, state.

In companies the same type of grouping (nuclear families {very close friends within a department} and even a somewhat extended clan especially in larger companies) occurs because of their purpose and their measurables of achievement and success. In the extreme, sales (as an example) and design and development communicate but not always on amiable terms. Their goals and their purposes are different (often they are at odds). This is not to say they do not share some common goals and values. Another example is manufacturing vs. the "quality" folks. How many times have you heard of manufacturing shipping product )to meet a delivery schedule, for example) which was rejected by the "quality" folks? Technically everyone is on the same "team" (an extended family - the company its self). That doesn't eliminate inter-departmental clans and their perceived "territories" from existing along with all the baggage that comes with "defense" of their immediate family/clan, its goals and its values.

A professional may be able to help management better understand and break down some of the communication barriers (and how often do we all hear about communications barriers within companies being significant problems). The bigger question is what will happen in the long run. My very limited experience is that they eventually resurface within 6 months to a year after the "family gathering" (remember those?) is over. In some cases evaluation of dictated interactions (procedures) can lead to better communications over the long term. I have seen some rather long term success through revisions to procedures. Of course, the failure mode is then people who will not follow written (not to mention verbal) procedures typically by individuals, but it is seen in departments as well.

Personally I think it would be interesting to see what a social anthropologist would come up with. I think Wes is on the right track suggesting that you contact a university and speak with someone in the anthropology or sociology department. I would recommend someone in cultural or social anthropology rather than sociology, but that's my bias. I'm not a big believer in psychologists, by the way, but that's just another one of my biases.

NOTE: When I was in college years ago we who considered ourselves "anthropologists" (we were, of course, a clan) way beyond sociologists whom we felt were shallow (not much archeological, anthropological and comparative religious education which we, of course, felt was important). So even in college there were clans/interest groups, each with their own values and goals. Obviously I'm biased. ;) Also note my major was biology and that was also a clan within the college I attended (Westminster in Fulton, MO). I never saw any use in fraternities so I never joined one, but those are an example of other "sub-clans" within most colleges and universities.

Just some thoughts... :notme:
 

Wes Bucey

Quite Involved in Discussions
#6
Hi Wes,

This is not a requirement.

Background. There was a new strategy directive from top managemt. It consisted of three areas. One of them adressed the internal communication and how efficiently the organization communicates and how can this be improved. But there was not content in the strategy yet. Only the topics as headers. The idea is to let the different parts of the organization come up with activities that are related to the focus areas.

One activity that was brought up was to try to shed some light on for example why members of department A are averse to communicating with department B.
This is a notion and there is probably some truth in it. But there is no way to measure or present facts on if/why people within one deparment behave in one way, while another deparment have a different way of going about their business.

Also there is a suggestion to promote across deparment behaviour. To promote employee to communicate across different areas. But to go there it is necessary to understand where the organization is right now. How different parts of it behave today. What are the differences, etc.

The idea of a social anthropologist is sort of hazy and vague because no one at the company has any experience from it. Only word of mouth from others.

But I might just contact a nearby university like you suggested.
Thanks!
Maybe you are just a little premature seeking outside specialists until you get a firm grip on what the top managers (who control resources and purse strings) expect and what resources they are willing to devote to resolving the issues they think are present.

One way I have seen companies deal with this as a long term strategy was through rotating employees through different departments. Each year each employee would take a position in another department of the company for a year. This was (and I assume still is) a very big part of grooming a person for upper management.
this "rotation" was VERY BIG in the 50's and 60's - back then, everyone wanted to be a "generalist." Today, "specialists" are the BIG THING and rotations tend to dull that specialist edge.
In college my minors were chemistry and anthropology (focusing on cultural anthropology and comparative analysis of religions courses). It's been a long time, but here are my thoughts.

What you are seeing in the company is associated with tribal/clan (aka departments or functional units) relationships. I've never seen a way to break the barriers in a significant way in large companies. These barriers are rare in companies of under 40 to 50 people. As a company approaches 100 people divisions begin to establish themselves much the same as in extended families where the focus group (the nuclear family - mother, father and siblings) is close but as one extends out into extended family cohesion and communication starts to drop off.
This is also a form of "siloing" and top managers foment a lot of this because they are either averse to or ignorant of Deming's SoPK. The top managers really have a deep seated fear of having anyone other than them have a "big picture" - they see themselves diminished when lower level staff have the same knowledge as they have.
For example, look at families and you will see where one nuclear family in a clan will have emotional bonds due to "blood" with other nuclear families. As the family lines play out (think family tree) further these bonds begin to break down as, for example, one nuclear family may be very religious while that family's father's brother's nuclear family is not. They are related by "blood" (aka breeding aka the "family tree") but they are very different.

This is not to say that even in a nuclear family there won't be significant differences in relationships. For example, girls tend to bond closer to their mother (looking at a number of years rather than occasional short term disturbances) than their father or a brother or a sister). In the extreme there are the cases of brother against brother (even in the news of late out of Libya where family feuds have been exposed - read the Coca-Cola story). It's not unusual to read about where (as an example) a brother kills his brother over something as simple as the last piece of pie at a family gathering. It's not even particularly an issue of "power" - It's typically more of an issue of personal greed and that person's perception of what is theirs vs. what is not theirs. But as a nuclear family (or a clan for that matter) vs. "the outside world", when a threat to the nuclear family or clan occurs the nuclear family (or clan) tends to regroup and put their internal differences aside (at least until the threat from the outside has passed) to confront the threat. We see the same sort of thing when we look at what is happening in places like Afghanistan and Libya, as well as many other states based upon tribes/clans such as Iraq. In these places religion typically plays a big part in the clan/tribe aspect playing a role in cohesion of a clan/tribe across "blood" relationships as the size of the clan/tribe increases. If you look at the world, though more so in years past, the essential binding forces in a society (a very large clan/tribe) were (and are) "family" and religion and territory.
I agree the concept of acting like a two-year-old (that period when the kid claims everything is "MINE!") is widespread in families as well as organizations (regardless if the organization is a church, a business corporation or a government.)
One thing I think is interesting is asking people in the US what their priorities are given a short list of: Country (nationalism), Religion, Family, State, Self. My mother valued country over family and family over religion. Then came Self. State was last in her world view. I have a friend who says his priority is religion, family, self, country, state. Another is family, self, country, religion, state.

In companies the same type of grouping (nuclear families {very close friends within a department} and even a somewhat extended clan especially in larger companies) occurs because of their purpose and their measurables of achievement and success. In the extreme, sales (as an example) and design and development communicate but not always on amiable terms. Their goals and their purposes are different (often they are at odds). This is not to say they do not share some common goals and values. Another example is manufacturing vs. the "quality" folks. How many times have you heard of manufacturing shipping product )to meet a delivery schedule, for example) which was rejected by the "quality" folks? Technically everyone is on the same "team" (an extended family - the company its self). That doesn't eliminate inter-departmental clans and their perceived "territories" from existing along with all the baggage that comes with "defense" of their immediate family/clan, its goals and its values.
I really see this as a description of management-induced paranoia in staff of different departments which creates silos. There are some managers out there who fervently believe the route to business success is "healthy competiton" between departments and individuals to "earn" the blessings and rewards bestowed by management. The only problem is this competition wastes resources which could be used to further the goals of the organization.
A professional may be able to help management better understand and break down some of the communication barriers (and how often do we all hear about communications barriers within companies being significant problems). The bigger question is what will happen in the long run. My very limited experience is that they eventually resurface within 6 months to a year after the "family gathering" (remember those?) is over. In some cases evaluation of dictated interactions (procedures) can lead to better communications over the long term. I have seen some rather long term success through revisions to procedures. Of course, the failure mode is then people who will not follow written (not to mention verbal) procedures typically by individuals, but it is seen in departments as well.
I'm not quite as pessimistic as this, but then the bulk of my career has really been a kind of Change Management - taking moribund or underachieving organizations and initiating and implementing both short term and long term changes which are targeted to increase the value of the organization. I like to think the strategies I used to eliminate the silo effect and implement SoPK actually work. To my mind, folks LIKE to be aware of what's really going on (especially with those shadowy figures behind the curtains.)

Personally I think it would be interesting to see what a social anthropologist would come up with. I think Wes is on the right track suggesting that you contact a university and speak with someone in the anthropology or sociology department. I would recommend someone in cultural or social anthropology rather than sociology, but that's my bias. I'm not a big believer in psychologists, by the way, but that's just another one of my biases.

NOTE: When I was in college years ago we who considered ourselves "anthropologists" (we were, of course, a clan) way beyond sociologists whom we felt were shallow (not much archeological, anthropological and comparative religious education which we, of course, felt was important). So even in college there were clans/interest groups, each with their own values and goals. Obviously I'm biased. ;) Also note my major was biology and that was also a clan within the college I attended (Westminster in Fulton, MO). I never saw any use in fraternities so I never joined one, but those are an example of other "sub-clans" within most colleges and universities.

Just some thoughts... :notme:
All I can say is that my own experience in college was not similar to Marc's, although we were essentially doing the same undergraduate work (I had majors in zoology and chemistry, minors in physics and math and I belonged to a fraternity and played a varsity sport.) Maybe it was because I went to a major university in a big city.
 

John Broomfield

Staff member
Super Moderator
#7
Hi Wes,

This is not a requirement.

Background. There was a new strategy directive from top managemt. It consisted of three areas. One of them adressed the internal communication and how efficiently the organization communicates and how can this be improved. But there was not content in the strategy yet. Only the topics as headers. The idea is to let the different parts of the organization come up with activities that are related to the focus areas.

One activity that was brought up was to try to shed some light on for example why members of department A are averse to communicating with department B.
This is a notion and there is probably some truth in it. But there is no way to measure or present facts on if/why people within one deparment behave in one way, while another deparment have a different way of going about their business.

Also there is a suggestion to promote across deparment behaviour. To promote employee to communicate across different areas. But to go there it is necessary to understand where the organization is right now. How different parts of it behave today. What are the differences, etc.

The idea of a social anthropologist is sort of hazy and vague because no one at the company has any experience from it. Only word of mouth from others.

But I might just contact a nearby university like you suggested.
Thanks!
flyin01,

Departments not communicating well should be prevented by your process-based management where every process is analyzed and documented at the interdepartmental level.

In other words, Departmental Procedures should be an oxymoron.

Your management system should show everyone how the departments work together to fulfill process and project objectives. Instead of giving all the power to the department managers give most of the power to the process and project managers.

The Social Anthropologist could be selected for his or her strength in the Social Identity Approach.

It may be that members of departments identify much more strongly with their departments than with their assigned processes and projects.

Best of luck,

John
 
F

flyin01

#8
Marc,

Thank you for a well written reply to my fuzzy question.
I wanted to hear about peoples personal opinions and experienses regarding this matter. This request is now fulfilled.

Wes,

Your comments provides a complementary view to Marc´s reply, this was also interesting to read. Thanks!

John,

Thank you for sharing you very concrete tips and also for the link, I´ll consider buying this book and write an expense report to my manager :)


For all of your in information, I have contacted a university in my area regarding this and asked them to share any empirical reports/references/knowledge that they have regarding this. I realize now that I should have formulated my thought into more distinct and clear questions. They will probably find it fuzzy and unclear also. But, iIf I get some answers that are of any value I will share these with you guys.

Cheers!
 
B

Brian Hunt

#9
This was examined around 20 years ago by Xerox who found that there was a sub culture of photocopier engineers who would meet on the road and share ideas and knowledge that was hidden to the management. They employed a social anthropologist to do this.

It's likely that IBM have done similar.

It's the informal communications and networks that REALLY control how an organisation works. Organisational charts don't tell the whole story.
 
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