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"How Can We Hold Together While We're Pulling Apart? The Elasticity of Organizational Identity"


How can an organization remain unified even during times of major change? To learn more about the answer, we conducted a 10-year study of the Episcopal Church (with two million members in 17 countries) as they underwent a period of historic, far-reaching change (2003-2013). Since an organization's identity (how members characterize "who we are") can be influenced by such change, we studied this organization's identity over time. We discovered a new concept that we called "identity elasticity." Much like a rubber band or balloon can stretch up to a point without breaking, an organization's identity can be expanded to include new identities. However, it will fragment if stretched beyond its elastic limit, thus becoming "inelastic." How does an organization's identity become "elastic" or "inelastic"? What are the consequences? How much can we change and still be "us"? We explore the answers in our study.

Managers can benefit from our research findings by understanding how organizational change can make a difference in how people think about the identity of their organization. With perceived changes in "who we are," how much members identify with their organization can also change. For some, the attachment will be stronger, while for others, it might be put to the test. When any type of organization experiences a major transformation—such as global expansion, merger, or sweeping technological innovation—its identity can often change to some degree, as well. Change produces tensions, and our research helps managers to understand how they can more effectively handle certain tensions that are related to a most basic question—"Who are we?" Managers can thereby enable their members to remain closely identified with their organization—even during times of conflict, controversy, or major change.

Kreiner, G. E., Hollensbe, E.C., Sheep, M. L., Smith, B., & Kataria, N. 2014 (in press). Elasticity and the Dialectic Tensions of Organizational Identity: How Can We Hold Together While We're Pulling Apart? Academy of Management Journal.


Dr. Matthew SheepMathew (Matt) Sheep teaches Management, Organizational Behavior, and Organizational Leadership at Illinois State University, having received his Ph.D. in Business Administration and M. A. in Organizational Communication at the University of Cincinnati. Professor Sheep has also taught Management, Organizational Communication, and Rhetorical Theory courses at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio University, and Illinois State University.

Professor Sheep's teaching methods make extensive use of experiential learning and cognitive development (e.g., integrative thinking) and involve a number of innovative assignments involving classroom exercises, online and local organizational research, student video and website production, virtual team collaboration, and civic engagement. Sheep's philosophy of teaching involves facilitating an interactive community of student learning and real-world application that extends beyond the classroom in terms of analytical and critical thinking skills that will hopefully remain with the student long after he or she has graduated.

Dr. Sheep's research interests include organizational identity, creativity, work-home balance, business ethics, workplace spirituality, and discursive approaches to organization. His research has been published in such journals as the Academy of Management Journal, Human Relations, and Journal of Business Ethics, and has won several awards, including Academy of Management's Outstanding Publication in Organizational Behavior Award (2007), The Owens Scholarly Achievement Award for best publication in Industrial-Organizational Psychology (SIOP, 2011), and the Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award for Excellence in Work-Family Research (2011). He has served as Associate Editor for the Journal of Management, Spirituality, and Religion (2009-2012) and currently as Associate Editor for Human Relations (2012- ).

Sheep has made numerous conference presentations at Academy of Management annual meetings, the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychologists (SIOP), Southern Management Association, Qualitative Research in Management and Organization Conference, and the National Communication Association. He also serves as a reviewer for such journals as Academy of Management Journal, Human Relations, Journal of Management Inquiry, Organization, Organization Studies, Management Communication Quarterly, Career Development International, and Journal of Management.

2020-04-20T13:37:55.453-05:00 2020