Co-creating New Dancefloors Through a Parallel Organisation

Workplace development through union-management cooperation in public the sector


Across industries, union density is under great pressure from different forms of organisations and, in many ways, a more individualised working life. Employee relations within the public sector have undergone a transition due to privatisation, decentralisation, and the adoption of quality management approaches. Employee relations in Nordic countries are strongly embedded in national regulations and agreements. However, research on workplace development within the public sector rarely includes discussions of the union role. The Nordic model perspective acknowledges that the different social parties share interests and visions, and it promotes a collective effort when workplace development is sought. This paper poses the question of how public organisations can change the “boxing and dancing” behaviour in union–management relationships through the establishment of a parallel organisation (PO). The PO serves as a different organisational mode when the operating organisation is unable to successfully deal with certain prevailing issues, where knowledge rather than authority should determine decisions. The findings show that the PO creates a “dancefloor”, less confined by bureaucratic barriers, where unions and managers co-create new relations. In addition, participants experience more enhancement of their roles, and their focus towards developing their workplace collectively is more prominent. Our findings contribute to the industrial relations literature by proposing POs as a tool for building relations between unions and managers in a public organisation. Our paper also contributes to the PO literature by proposing that the inclusion of unions in a PO can be crucial when attempting to transfer outcomes into the operating organisation.

Author Biographies

Kristin Lebesby, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

Kristin Lebesby is a research scientist at SINTEF as well as a PhD candidate at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Her research area is organization development and union-management cooperation, mainly within public sector, and action research.

Hanne Finnestrand, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

Hanne Finnestrand is Associate Professor of Organization development at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Norway. She holds a PhD in Action Research and Organization development from the same university. Finnestrand’s research area is action research in the fields of organization development, industrial relations, and socio-technical systems design. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Systemic Practice and Action Research (Springer).

Ola Edvin Vie, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

Ola Edvin Vie is Associate Professor in Leadership at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Norway. He holds a PhD in Managerial Work from the same university, focusing on the emotional sides of everyday relations between managers and employees. Vie’s research area is within project management, knowledge management and teamwork.