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Models of self governance and workplace democracy: a comparison of select orchestras in Germany, the U.S. and U.K

Lehman, E.V. (2001). Models of self governance and workplace democracy: a comparison of select orchestras in Germany, the U.S. and U.K. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London)


This thesis is the result of the author's long-term interest in the inner workings of self-governing and other "high involvement" orchestra organizations. This interest was "sparked" by her work in the general survey of professional symphony orchestras in East and West Germany, the U.S., and U.K. conducted with Allmendinger and Hackman in the early 1990s. The findings of that research led to a general understanding of how symphony orchestras were structured, supported and led in those countries during that time period. In her own work, the author goes beyond that broad foundation in order to generate original research that illuminates how (and how well) a rare form of orchestra functions (i.e., the self-governing orchestra) and what roles musicians take within them. After a description of the rise of concert orchestras in Germany, the United States, and Great Britain and a review of the pertinent literature, four particular orchestras are then discussed in-depth: the Colorado Symphony Orchestra (Denver, Colorado USA), the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (NYC, NY, USA), the Berlin Philharmonic (Berlin, Germany), and the London Symphony Orchestra (London, U.K.). For this study, the author uses a mutli-method research strategy to help her discover and analyze the most important issues of high involvement orchestra organizations. These issues are related to an orchestra's direction, structure, leadership and membership. The findings reveal the similarities and differences between the four orchestras studied and the dominant model of orchestra organization. The findings also indicate what role national context has played (that is, historical tradition, labor and tax laws, and level of public support) in the development of musician-involved orchestras. In discussing the weaknesses of these more democratic orchestral systems, the author identifies seven "traps" or difficulties that must be dealt with in order to attain a truly functional and sustainable level of self-governance. These include: ample time to fully develop the organization's systems and structures, having the capacity to deal with financial pressures, fostering commitment (both individual and collective commitment), managing the tradeoff between broad participation versus efficiency, the need for widespread trust and technical knowledge, the ability to handle internal power struggles, and to conduct peer reviews. In arguing the other side of the issue, the author discusses the advantages of self-governing systems. These include: a profound and widespread sense of "ownership" throughout the organization (not just in the executive offices or the board room as is the case with the dominant model) which positively affects employee commitment and motivation, less mental stress for musicians because they have a legitimate voice in organizational affairs, a sense of common purpose that "we are all on the same team, pulling in the same direction," rewards are more collective than individual so everyone shares in the success or failure of the group, there is more participation in decision making and less hierarchy, and, finally, player job satisfaction is heightened in qualitative terms. The author concludes that national context does matter in explaining the genesis of the four organizations under study, but finds, more importantly, that each orchestra's particular direction, structure, membership and leadership configurations are the critical variables to both understanding and assessing how well they will function as high involvement organizations and what role musicians will play in them.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
Departments: Doctoral Theses
School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
School of Policy & Global Affairs > School of Policy & Global Affairs Doctoral Theses
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