Organizational disruptions and triggers for divergent sensemaking

Matthew S. Weber, Gail Fann Thomas, Kimberlie J. Stephens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


In recent years, scholars and practitioners alike have sought to better understand the emergent communicative processes involved in the implementation of strategic organizational initiatives. In response, this article builds on sensemaking and sensegiving theory to understand the interactions that developed between internal and external stakeholders in response to a post-9/11 change in the Maritime Transportation Security Act. A detailed, emergent account of a failed initiative was derived from public comments in the Federal Register, transcripts from public meetings, newspaper articles, and semistructured interviews with key internal informants. In-depth analysis of these data allowed us to examine a divergent sensemaking process and identify four critical triggers that led to a communication breakdown: (a) unidirectional and parsimonious communication, (b) multifaceted understandings of organizational identities, (c) misaligned cues, and (d) an emergence of interorganizational sensemaking. A first-order analysis presents data from an in-depth case analysis, and a second-order analysis uses the analysis to develop a divergent sensemaking conceptual model. From a strategic communication perspective, our findings demonstrate the importance of taking a broad perspective of the legitimate participants in a sensemaking process, as well as reconciling sensemaking trajectories to avoid contradictions between perspectives. We offer implications for theory, future research, and practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)68-96
Number of pages29
JournalInternational Journal of Business Communication
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business, Management and Accounting (miscellaneous)
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)


  • Divergent
  • Organizational disruptions
  • Sensegiving
  • Sensemaking
  • Strategic communication
  • Triggers


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