Handling coordination in an extreme situation: Tensions in electronic communication and organizational emptiness during the 2003 French heat wave crisis response


  • Anouck Adrot Télécom Ecole de Management/Institut Mines-Télécom
  • Marie Bia-Figueiredo Télécom Ecole de Management/Institut Mines-Télécom


Electronic communication, Coordination, Disaster, Crisis response, Grounded theory.


This study focuses on email use in extreme situations, in particular organizational crises in disaster settings. Despite abundant empirical evidence of intensive email use in crisis response, the question of the overall support from email to coordination in critical settings has remained unanswered. Filling this gap, we draw on grounded theory principles to conduct an exploratory investigation of email use during the 2003 French heat wave crisis response. We propose a thorough analysis of the crisis responders’ electronic communication practices when they attempted to address what we label organizational emptiness. Through the narration of four episodes, our findings outline electronic communication tensions during the 2003 French heat wave crisis response: email was used by the crisis responders in a helpful as well as damaging way. Our discussion outlines four contradictory behaviors among email users - immediate communication but delayed action, centrality in information processing but absence in collective action, email use and avoidance, efforts for resilience despite persistent patterns of communication – that impeded organizational emptiness resolution, thereby burdening coordination during crisis response. This study enriches literature in three manners. First, we extend the scope of investigation of extreme situations. Second we propose organizational emptiness as an original conceptual lens to comprehensively analyze IT use in crisis coordination. Third, we offer insights on technology enactment in extreme situations.


Alter, N., (2000), L'innovation ordinaire, PUF, Paris, 2000.

Barley, S. R., Meyerson, D. E. et Grodal, S., (2011), "Email as a source and symbol of stress", Organization Science, Vol. 22, n° 4, p. 887-906.

Barney, J., (1991), "Firm Resources and Sustained Competitive Advantage", Journal of Management, Vol. 17, n° 1, p. 99.

Beaudry, A., Pinsonneault, A., (2005), "Understanding User Responses to Information Technology: A Coping Model of User Adaptation", MIS Quarterly, Vol. 29, n° 3, p. 493-524.

Berliner, P. F., (1994), Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation, the University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Bettelheim, B., (1943), "Individual and mass behavior in extreme situations", The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Vol. 38, n° 4, p. 417-452.

Boudes, T., Laroche, H., (2009), "Taking off the Heat: Narrative Sensemaking in Post-crisis Inquiry Reports", Organization Studies, Vol., p. 377-396.

Boukef Charki, N., (2008), "L'e-mail: un moyen de contrôle ou de responsabilisation ?", Systèmes d'Information et Management, Vol. 13, n° 4, p. 31-60.

Bourgeois, L. J., (1981), "On the Measurement of Organizational Slack", The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 6, n° 1, p. 29-39.

Bouty, I., (2011), "Les pratiques de coordination en situation extrême", Management & Avenir, Vol. 41, n° 1, p. 387-393.

Burt, R. S., (1992), Structural Holes: The Social Structure of Competition, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1992.

Burt, R. S., (2004), "Structural Holes and Good Ideas", The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 110, n° 2, p. 349-399.

Cohen, M. D., March, J. G. et Olsen, J. P., (1972), "A Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice", Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 17, n° 1, p. 1-25.

Corbin, J. M., Strauss, A., (1990), "Grounded theory research: Procedures, canons, and evaluative criteria", Qualitative Sociology, Vol. 13, n° 1, p. 3-21.

Crossan, M., Cunha, M. P. E., Vera, D. et Cunha, J., (2005), "Time and Organizational Improvisation", Academy of Management Review, Vol. 30, n° 1, p. 129-145.

Crozier, M., Friedberg, E., (1977), L'acteur et le système, Seuil, Paris, 1977.

Daft, R. L., Lengel, R. H., (1984) "Information richness: a new approach to managerial behavior and organization design", Research in Organizational Behaviour, B. M. Slaw et L. L. Cummings (Eds.), JAI Press, Greenwich, p. 191-233.

Daft, R. L., Lengel, R. H., (1986), "Organizational information requirements, media richness and structural design", Management Science, Vol. 36, n° 5, p. 554-571.

Daft, R. L., Lengel, R. H. et Trevino, L. K., (1987), "Message Equivocality, Media Selection, and Manager Performance: Implications for Information Systems", MIS Quarterly, Vol. 11, n° 3, p. 355-366.

Daft, R. L., Macintosh, N. B., (1981), "A Tentative Exploration into the Amount and Equivocality of Information Processing in Organizational Work Units", Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 26, n° 2, p. 207-224.

Danowski, J. A., Edison-Swift, P., (1985), "Crisis effects on intraorganizational computer-based communication", Communication Research, Vol. 12, n° 2, p. 251-270.

Desanctis, G., Poole, M. S., (1994), "Capturing the Complexity in Advanced Technology Use: Adaptive Structuration Theory", Organization Science, Vol. 5, n° 2, p. 121-147.

Ducheneaut, N., Watts, L. A., (2005), "In search of coherence: a review of e-mail research", Human Computer Interaction, Vol. 20, p. 17-28.

Evin, C., (2004), "Rapport fait au nom de la commission d'enquête sur les conséquences sanitaires et sociales de la canicule", Assemblée Nationale.

Faraj, S., Xiao, Y., (2006), "Coordination in Fast-Response Organizations", Management science, Vol. 52, n° 8, p. 1155-1169.

Farnham, S., Pedersen, E. R. et Kirkpatrick, R. (2006). Observation of Katrina/Rita Groove Deployment: Addressing Social and Communication Challenges of Ephemeral Groups. Paper presented at the ISCRAM Conference, Newark, NJ.

Festinger, L., (1957), A theory of cognitive dissonance, Standford University Press, 1957.

Fink, S. L., Beak, J. et Taddeo, K., (1971), "Organizational Crisis and Change", The Journal of applied behavioral science, Vol. 7, n° 1, p. 15-37.

Fouillet, A., Rey, G., Laurent, F., Pavillon, G., Bellec, S., Guihenneuc-Jouyaux, C., Clavel, J., Jougla, E. et Hémon, D., (2006), "Excess mortality related to the August 2003 heat wave in France", International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, Vol. 80, n° 1, p. 16-24.

Fulk, J., Schmitz, J. et Ryu, D., (1995), "Cognitive elements in the social construction of communication technology", Management Communication Quarterly, Vol. 8, n° 3, p. 259-288.

Glaser, B. G., Strauss, A. L., (1973), The discovery of grounded theory: strategies for qualitative research, Aldine Transaction, Chicago, 1973.

Got, C., (2008), "Les revers de la santé publique", Sève - Presses de Sciences Po, Vol. 3, n° 20, p. 23-38.

Hémon, D., Jougla, E., Clavel, J., Laurent, F., Bellec, S. et Pavillon, G., (2003), "Surmortalité liée à la canicule d'août 2003 en France", Bulletin Epidémiologique Hebdomadaire, Vol. 45-46, n° 221-225.

Hermann, C. F., (1963), "Some Consequences of Crisis Which Limit the Viability of Organizations", Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 8, n° 1, p. 61-82.

Kock, N., (1998) "Can a Learner Medium Foster Better Group Outcomes ? A Study of Computer-Supported Process Improvement Groups", Effective Utilization and Management of Emerging Information Technologies, M. Khosrowpour (Ed.), Idea Group Publishing, Hershey, PA, p. 22-31.

Kock, N., (2001), "Compensatory adaptation to a lean medium: an action research investigation of electronic communication in process improvement groups", Professional Communication, IEEE Transactions on, Vol. 44, n° 4, p. 267-285.

Lagadec, P., (2004), "Understanding the French 2003 Heat Wave Experience: Beyond the heat, a Multi-Layered Challenge", Journal of contingencies and crisis management, Vol. 12, n° 4, p. 160.

Lalande, F., Legrain, S., Valleron, A.-J., Meyniel, D. et Fourcade, M., (2003), "Mission d'expertise et d'évaluation du système de santé pendant la canicule 2003", L. D. française, Ministère de la santé, de la famille et des personnes handicapées, Paris.

Lièvre, P., Gautier, A., (2009), "Les registres de la logistique des situations extrêmes: des expéditions polaires aux services d'incendies et secours", Management & Avenir, Vol. 24, n° 4, p. 196-216.

Lièvre, P., Rix-Lièvre, G., (2011), "Pratiques de coordination d'un collectif informel en situation extrême: une étude de cas "ancrée" au Groenland", Management & Avenir, Vol. 41, n° 1, p. 449-471.

Locke, K., (2001), Grounded theory in management research, Sage Editions., 2001.

Markus, M. L., (1994), "Electronic Mail As the Medium of Managerial Choice", Organization Science, Vol. 5, n° 4, p. 502-527.

Melancon, C., (2005), "Hurricane Katrina Document Analysis: the E-mails of Michael Brown", U.S. House of Representatives.

Mendonça, D., (2007), "Decision support for improvisation in response to extreme events: Learning from the response to the 2001 World Trade Center attack", Decision Support Systems, Vol. 43, n° 3, p. 952-967.

Mintzberg, H., (1979), The Structuring of Organizations, Hardback, 1979.

Mitroff, I. I., Pearson, C. M. et Harrington, L. K., (1996), The Essential Guide to Managing Corporate Crisis: A Step-by-step Handbook for Surviving Major Catastrophes, Oxford University Press, 1996.

Nizet, J., Pichault, F., (2011), "L'interprétation des standards en situation extrême: le pouvoir fait-il la différence ?", Management & Avenir, Vol. 41, n° 1, p. 394-415.

Orlikowski, W. J., (1992), "The Duality of Technology: Rethinking the Concept of Technology in Organizations", Organization Science, Vol. 3, n° 3, p. 31.

Orlikowski, W. J., (2000), "Using Technology Constituting Structure : Practical Lens For Studying Technology Organizations", Organization Science, Vol. 11, n° 4, p. 25.

Panteli, N., (2002), "Richness, power cues and email text", Information & Management, Vol. 40, n° 2, p. 75-86.

Panteli, N., Fineman, S., (2005), "The sound of silence: The case of virtual team organising", Behaviour & Information Technology, Vol. 24, n° 5, p. 347-352.

Pearson, C. M., Claire, J. A., (1998), "Reframing crisis management", The Academy of Management review, Vol. 23, n° 1, p. 59-76.

Perrow, C., (1967), "A Framework for the Comparative Analysis of Organizations", American Sociological Review, Vol. 32, n° 2, p. 194-208.

Perry, R. W., Quarantelli, E. L., (2005), What is a Disaster?: New Answers To Old Questions, Xlibris Corporation, 2005.

Poutout, G., (2005), "Réseaux de santé: créer du lien pour donner du sens", Sociologies pratiques, Vol. 11, n° 2, p. 33-54.

Quarantelli, E. L., (1988), "Disaster Crisis Management: A summary of research findings", Journal of Management Studies, Vol. 25, n° 4, p. 373-385.

Rice, R. E., (1990), "From adversity to diversity: applications of communication technology in crisis management", Advances in telecommunications management, Vol. 3, p. 91-112.

Rice, R. E., (1992), "Task Analyzability, Use of New Media, and Effectiveness: A Multi-Site Exploration of Media Richness", Organization Science, Vol. 3, n° 4, p. 475-500.

Salagnac, J.-L., (2007), "Lessons from the 2003 heat wave: a French perspective", Building Research & Information, Vol. 35, n° 4, p. 450 - 457.

Schmitz, J., Fulk, J., (1991), "Organizational Colleagues, Media Richness, and Electronic Mail", Communication Research, Vol. 18, n° 4, p. 487-523.

Shrivastava, P., (1988), "Industrial crisis management: Learning from organizational Failures", The Journal of management studies, Vol. 25, n° 4, p. 283-284.

Sousa, C. a. A., Hendriks, P. H. J., (2006), "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: The Need for Grounded Theory in Developing a Knowledge-Based View of Organizations", Organizational Research Methods, Vol. 9, n° 3, p. 315-338.

Staw, B. M., Sandelands, L. E. et Dutton, J. E., (1981), "Threat-rigidity effects in organizational behavior: A multilevel analysis", Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 26, n° 4, p. 501-524.

Strauss, A. L., Corbin, J., (2008), Basics of qualitative research: techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory, Sage publications, Thousand Oaks, 2008.

Suddaby, R., (2006), "From the Editors: What Grounded Theory is not", Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 49, n° 4, p. 633-642.

Sumecki, D., Chipulu, M. et Ojiako, U., (2011), "Email overload: Exploring the moderating role of the perception of email as a ‘business critical’ tool", International Journal of Information Management, Vol. 31, n° 5, p. 407-414.

Treviño, L. K., Webster, J. et Stein, E. W., (2000), "Making Connections: Complementary Influences on Communication Media Choices Attitudes, and Use", Organization Science, Vol. 11, n° 2, p. 163-182.

Valacich, J. S., Paranka, D., George, J. F. et Nunamaker Jr, J. F., (1993), "Communication parallelism and the new media: a new dimension for media richness", Communication Research, Vol. 20, n° 2, p. 249-276.

Vielhaber, M. E., Waltman, J. L., (2008), "Changing Uses of Technology", Journal of Business Communication, Vol. 45, n° 3, p. 308-330.

Waugh, W. L., Streib, G., (2006), "Collaboration and Leadership for Effective Emergency Management", Public Administration Review, Vol. 66, p. 131-140.

Webster, J., Trevino, L. K., (1995), "Rational and social theories as complementary explanations of communication media choices: Two policy-capturing studies", Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 38, n° 6, p. 1544-1572.

Weick, E., Sutcliffe, K. M., (2001), Managing the Unexpected: Assuring High Performance in an Age of Complexity, University of Michigan Business School, 2001.

Weick, K. E., (1993), "The Collapse of Sensemaking in Organizations - the Mann Gulch Disaster", Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 38, n° 4, p. 628-652.

Zmud, R. W., Lind, M. R. et Young, F. W., (1990), "An Attribute Space for Organizational Communication Channels", Information Systems Research, Vol. 1, n° 4, p. 440-457.



How to Cite

Adrot, A., & Bia-Figueiredo, M. (2013). Handling coordination in an extreme situation: Tensions in electronic communication and organizational emptiness during the 2003 French heat wave crisis response. Systèmes d’Information Et Management (French Journal of Management Information Systems), 18(1), 11–56. Retrieved from https://revuesim.org/index.php/sim/article/view/472



Special Issues