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Teamwork as Normative Control in a Welfare State Bureaucracy
Kerstin Jacobsson & Katarina Hollertz

Teamwork is a well-known management technique for eliciting commitment and exerting control in the private sector. But what happens when teamwork is introduced in a state bureaucracy, which is in fact a highly formal, hierarchical, rule-governed organization? Tying critical management and street-level bureaucracy studies, this article explores teamwork as a key component in the normative control of the street-level bureaucrats within the Swedish Social Insurance Agency. Based on ethnographic research in five local offices, the analysis demonstrates how teamwork functions as a subtle steering device in public sector management. The analysis identifies teams as: a) performative tools; b) cushioning structures; and c) “moral corsets” on caseworkers. By the seamless linking of vertical and horizontal governance mechanisms, teamwork was instrumental in achieving organizational targets, while transforming the nature of casework and reducing caseworkers’ discretion. The findings call for more research on the normative shaping of staff under new forms of public management.

Keywords: caseworkers, institutional ethnography, normative control, street-level bureaucracy, teamwork