Associate Professor Beth Bechky Studies Role-based Coordination in Temporary Organizations
Organization Science, 2006

Organizations come in many forms, from more traditional, formal hierarchies such as corporations and government departments, to less hierarchical, project-based organizations such as theater, commercial construction sites and film production sets. The latter, referred to as “temporary organizations,” have proven more flexible and capable of accomplishing objectives efficiently and successfully under intense time constraints.

In her study titled “Gaffers, Gofers and Grips: Role-Based Coordination in Temporary Organizations,” which was published in the January-February 2006 issue of Organization Science, Assistant Professor Beth Bechky differentiates temporary from more traditional organizations. From her observations working on several film productions—two movies, a music video and a commercial—Bechky identifies how temporary organizations accomplish objectives while lacking the stable rules, long-term job security, hierarchies and traditional structures associated with large bureaucracies.

Bechky found that crew members bring with them some sense of what their roles will be given the conventions of the film industry. These role expectations emerged more fully once individuals arrive at the set and begin interacting with other members of the crew. Communication through enthusiastic thanking, polite admonishing and role-oriented joking reinforces the expected role structures. Specific working roles are embraced because each job can lead to future employment opportunities within the industry.

Bechky’s article offers important information for managers working in the high-tech industry, where job security and the use of creative talent are challenging, and for those who rely on a contract work force.