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Communities of practice or communities of coping?: Employee compliance among CSRs in Israeli call centres

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to describe and analyse the formation of CoPs (communities of practice) in three call centres of cellular communication operating companies in Israel. Design/methodology/approach ‐ This study is based on a qualitative methodology including observations, interviews and textual analysis. Findings ‐ In all three call centres, customer service representatives (CSRs) turned to each other in order to produce situated knowledge that combined compliance with organisational procedures alongside subversion so as to increase individual availability while compromising professional goals. These CoPs were formed during training, on-the-job learning, and off-the-job informal social activities. The resentment expressed in these CoPs was found to be related to standard HRM policies (low pay, stringent control, lack of career prospects) as well as to cultural contradictions involving efficiency and service quality, which CSRs had to handle and absorb. Research limitations/implications ‐ The research provides ethnographic evidence regarding the formation of subversive CoPs in call centres but, as with all case study research, the findings cannot be reliably generalised to other companies. Similarly, the case generates grounded theory that needs to be tested in other organisational contexts. Practical implications ‐ The study raises the issue of how CoPs can become both enablers and barriers to knowledge flow in the organisation. To increase the potential of such CoPs to improve rather than inhibit service performance in call centres, practical implications are suggested in terms of HRM practices (e.g. strategic segmentation, the modification of monitoring), and in openly confronting cultural contradictions. Originality/value ‐ The article offers an ethnographic analysis of CoPs in call centres, focusing on their formation in the context of HRM practices and cultural contradictions, and highlighting their potential to constitute subversive workgroup cultures, rather than their conventionally perceived functional role in the organisation. As an inductive research using covert methods the article offers fresh insights in relation to CoPs and counter cultures.
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Keywords: Call centres; Israel; Organizational culture

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 5, 2007

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