SWG 07: Organization(al) Networks: Between Structure and Process
Coordinators, Tilburg University, The Netherlands
, University of Liverpool, United Kingdom
, University of Greenwich, United Kingdom
, Bocconi University Milan, Italy
Research on organizational networks has increased dramatically in the last fifteen years (e.g., Borgatti & Halgin, 2011). This is exemplified by two special issues of the Academy of Management Journal on organizational networks in the 2000s, two special issues of Organization Science on organizational networks in the 2010s, and about 55 papers on inter-and intra-organizational relations and networks in Organization Studies since the year 2000. Furthermore, several journals in the field published review studies on organizational networks and relationships. Relevant examples are Journal of Management (Provan et al., 2007; Phelps et al., 2012), Academy of Management Annals (Kilduff & Brass, 2010; Halevy et al., 2018), Research in the Sociology of Organizations (Borgatti et al., 2014), Industry and Innovation (Bergenholtz & Waldstrøm, 2011), International Journal of Management Reviews (Pittaway et al., 2004; Müller-Seitz, 2012) and Public Management Review (Lecy et al., 2014). In a review piece on organization networks, Borgatti and Foster (2003) conclude that most network studies fall in one of four possible categories in a scheme consisting of two dimensions:
The first dimension refers to a study’s explanatory goal, which can be either performance or homogeneity. Some studies focus on explaining variation in success (e.g. performance or reward) as a function of inter- or intra-organizational relationships. Other studies concentrate on the explanation of homogeneity in actor attitudes, beliefs and practices, also as a function of relationships.
The second dimension refers to the explanatory mechanisms in use, which can be either structuralist or connectionist. Studies differ in how they treat ties and their functions. In the structuralist approach, the focus is on the structure or configuration of ties in the network. It is a structural, topological approach that tends to neglect the content of ties and focuses on the structural patterns of interconnection. In the connectionist approach, also called the connectionist or relational stream, the focus is on the processes taking shape in network ties. Inter- and intraorganizational relationships and networks are seen as conduits through which information and aid flow or through which coordination takes place (Borgatti & Halgin, 2011).
A combination of the two dimensions results in four types of network studies:
The first group is labelled ‘structural capital’ (structuralist and performance variation) and comprises studies that concentrate on the benefits to actors of either occupying central positions in the network (Powell et al., 1996) or having an ego-network with a certain structure (Burt, 1992).
The second group of studies (structuralist and homogeneity) seeks to explain common attitudes and practices in terms of similar structural network environments, usually indicated by centrality or structural equivalence (Galaskiewicz & Burt, 1991).
In the third group, an organization’s success is a function of the quality and quantity of resources controlled by the organization’s alters (Stuart, 2000). This category comprises of research in the stakeholder and resource dependence theoretical traditions.
The fourth group is a combination of the connectionist approach and social homogeneity and seeks to explain attitudes, culture, and practices through interaction (Krackhardt & Kilduff, 2002). The spread of an idea, practice or material object is modelled as a function of interpersonal or inter-organizational interaction via friendship or other durable channels. Ties are conceived of as conduits along which information and influence flow. Actors are mutually influencing each other in a process that creates increasing structural inter-dependencies within structural subgroups.
Leon A.G. Oerlemans is Professor in Organizational Dynamics at the Department of Organization Studies, Tilburg University, The Netherlands. His research focuses on inter-organizational relationships and networks, and temporary inter-organizational project networks.
Julia Brennecke is Reader in Innovation Management at the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom. Her research focuses on networks in knowledge-intensive settings, with the aim of creating a better understanding of how and why network ties form, and exposing the consequences of network connections for innovation.
Francesca Pallotti is an Associate Professor in Economic Sociology at the University of Greenwich Business School, United Kingdom. Her research focuses on the antecedents and consequences of inter- and intra-organizational networks, and on network dynamics.
Marco Tortoriello is Professor of Strategy and Organizations in the Department of Management and Technology at Bocconi University Milan, Italy. His research focuses on mechanisms and returns to social capital as applied to knowledge-intensive industries and organizations.