EGOS Frontpage  European Group for Organizational Studies
About EGOS | Join | Organization Studies | Conferences | Working Groups | PhD & Postdoc. Information | Job Market | Members
The 23rd EGOS Colloquium 2007  

General Theme


Postdoctoral pre-colloquium workshop

PhD pre-colloquium workshop

Roland Calori Prize

EGOS Best Paper Award
EGOS Best Student Paper Award

Colloquium program

Sub-theme programs

Panel discussions


Organizational details

Registration and hotel reservation


City maps



Sub-theme 44:
Unravelling organizational learning in multinational corporations



Ayse Saka-Helmhout, University of Groningen (Netherlands)

Mike Geppert, Queen Mary University of London (UK) [email protected]

Call for papers

There is little if any research explicitly directed at organizational learning within multinationals. Most of the international business literature tends to equate organizational learning with knowledge transfer (e.g. Zahra et al.; Macharzina et al.). Conceptually ideas drawing on organization theory that discuss organizational learning as a routine-based, socially constructed and interactively constituted process in various international contexts have not received due attention. This stems from the focus on the tangibles of knowledge transfer and the determinants of organizational learning in an international arena (Fiol & Lyles; Bartlett & Ghoshal; Barkema & Vermeulen). Organizational learning is typically reflected as the transfer of ‘best practices’ that leads to firm survival and effective performance, and understood as more or less codified knowledge flowing across industrial sectors and national borders in a form abstracted from institutional embeddedness and the wider social networks.

First of all, a large body of research has extensively studied the mechanisms behind learning processes, as well as their encoding into behavioral routines (Cyert & March; Nelson & Winter). The behaviorist tradition prominently contributed to this vast body of research by modeling learning as a change process (March & Simon; Cyert & March). This stream of research rests on the assumption that organizations learn when their experience results in behavioral change, implying that behavior is routine-based, history-dependent and target-oriented. Second, interactive and social constructionist approaches stress the social embeddedness of organizational learning and that the creation and transfer of knowledge from one context to another is a socially constituted process influenced by the strategic orientations of key actors (Child & Heavens; Geppert & Clark). This implies that learning is an interactive process constituting knowledge and rationalities that are socially embedded and that require re-embedding when transferred to another social/institutional context. However, these lines of thinking have to a lesser extent percolated in international business research on learning. This calls for a need to introduce both the behaviorist and interactionist assumptions of organizational learning to the research on the multinational firm. We recognize that while many of the facilitators/inhibitors of organizational learning are likely to be the same, such as the willingness to learn, expatriate management, and training, we can expect their relative importance to change significantly between the transfer process and the impact of the acquired knowledge on established local routines and knowledge. Moreover, it has been stressed that the transfer process always involves some form of local adaptation. The dialectics of de- and re-embedding knowledge can be understood both as a translation process (Czarniawska & Joerges), as well as a socially and politically constituted activity, requiring discursive legitimacy (Hardy & Philips). We welcome papers that clarify the distinction between knowledge transfer and discursive legitimation or translation of acquired knowledge into local routines to constitute learning within the multinational context.

Contributions to this sub-theme should adopt a processual account of organizational learning as it occurs within multinational corporations (MNCs) by drawing on empirical research and different bodies of theory that reflect learning as knowing-in-action (e.g. structuration, social becoming, social constructivism, communities of practice, behavioral theory of the firm, and institutional theory incorporating agency and socio-politics). We encourage contributions using diverse research methodologies, including ethnography, action research, comparative case studies, and surveys.

Among the questions to be addressed are:

  • What are the impacts of acquired knowledge on the established routines within an MNC? How can collective cognitive structures be changed with the adoption of new knowledge?

  • Which factors stimulate or hinder routine-based organizational learning within MNCs?

  • How do international contexts provide opportunities for adaptive practice for learning? Do choice of country and modes of operating affect the degree to which an organization learns?

  • Which learning tools can be adopted to promote two-way learning between headquarters and affiliate firms?

  • How does the concept of organizational learning as a routine-based activity allow us to revise existing models of internationalization?

  • How can agency and micro-political issues be incorporated into learning within the MNC context?

  • How does the embeddedness of social institutions affect MNC learning? How do certain forms/degrees of home and host country embeddedness influence the transfer and adaptation of new routines, and with it the process of organizational learning?

  • To what extent does organizational learning in multinational settings reflect the contested and political nature of this process? Which key actors and dominant coalitions constitute the process and outcome of organizational learning in MNCs and what are their strategic orientations?

About the convenors

Ayse Saka-Helmhout is an assistant professor of organization studies in the Department of International Business and Management at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Her research interests include comparative knowledge diffusion processes in cross-national settings, organizational learning within the MNC context, and institutional change processes. For more information please see

Mike Geppert is a reader in international management studies at the Centre for Business Management at Queen Mary University of London (UK). He received his PhD from Humboldt University Berlin (Germany). His research interests include transnational institution building and the MNC, comparative organization studies, and research in organizational change, learning and sensemaking. For more information please see