Goal Conflicts, Classical Management and Constructivism: How Operators Get Things Done

Leonie Boskeljon-Horst, Robert J. de Boer, S. Sillem, Sidney W. A. Dekker

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In this study we identify the differences in goal realisation when applying two conflicting paradigms regarding rule perception and management. We gathered more than 30 scenarios where goal conflicts were apparent in a military operational unit. We found that operators repetitively utilized certain routines in executing their tasks in an effort to realize several conflicting goals. These routines were not originally intended nor designed into the rules and not explicitly included in documentation. They were not necessarily at odds with the literal wording and/or the intent of rules and regulations, although we did find examples of this. Our data showed that local ingenuity was created innovatively within the frame of existing rules or kept invisible to those outside the unit. The routines were introduced and passed on informally, and we found no evidence of testing for the introduction of new risks, no migration into the knowledge base of the organisation, and no dissemination as new best practices. An explanation for this phenomenon was found in the fact that the military organisation was applying a top-down, classical, rational approach to rules. In contrast, the routines were generated by adopting a constructivist view of rules as dynamic, local, situated constructions with operators as experts. The results of this study suggest that organisations are more effective in solving goal conflicts and creating transparency on local ingenuity if they adopt a constructivist paradigm instead of, or together with, a classical paradigm.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • local ingenuity
  • goal conflicts
  • goal attainment
  • rule management
  • safety
  • productivity
  • expertise


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