A multifocal perspective on ambidextrous design

Date: 28 September 2016

Venue: UAntwerpen, Stadscampus, Hof van Liere, F. de Tassiszaal - Prinsstraat 13 - 2000 Antwerp (route: UAntwerpen, Stadscampus)

Time: 4:00 PM

PhD candidate: Nele Cannaerts

Principal investigator: Prof. dr. Paul Matthyssens

Co-principal investigator: Prof. dr. Jesse Segers

Short description: PhD defence Nele Cannaerts - Faculty of Applied Economics


To overcome today’s challenges organization scientists put the concept of ‘Ambidexterity’ as a solution to the forefront. Ambidexterity describes the necessary capability of organizations to simultaneously perform and balance two different and often conflicting activities: exploitation and exploration. Whereas exploitation is described as the efficient pursuit of existing activities and the focus on short-term goals; exploration is considered as the flexibility to focus on new and innovative ideas and thus the long-term goals of an organization. To balance both, the most optimal organization design has to be created. Literature has put forward two designs that organizations can use to simultaneously balance exploitation and exploration: structural ambidexterity which is a structural separating solution; and, contextual ambidexterity which can be considered as a behavioural integration solution. But, there is still no consensus on what the ‘optimal’ organizational design should look like or, which design outperforms the other.

The diverse hooks from which I look at ambidexterity can be summarized in two main fields which unfold throughout the diverse chapters. The first field is a critical one that questions the dominance of structural and contextual ambidexterity. The general question is which design is considered to be the best way to overcome the duality of efficiency and innovation in practice? The second one is the one that differentiates between private and public sector organizations. The question then is: Can ambidextrous designs work for both private and public sector organizations? Based on a thorough literature review this dissertation precisely selected five interesting concepts to take into account within ambidexterity research. More precisely, within the first chapter there is a specific focus on HRM; in chapters two and four we implement a particular focus on organization size; in chapter two and three leadership is put to the forefront whereas chapter four focuses on the influence of the external environment as well as the outcome performance. The main reason to take these into account is because of their value for the development of ambidexterity as a valid research field.

To develop new insights for ambidexterity theory I mainly use a configurational and qualitative methodological approach. The use of the set-theoretic method Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) as well as the use of case study methodology is perfectly suited to enhance the broader understanding of ambidexterity and its measurement. All data is self-gathered throughout a four year period by using diverse surveys and in-depth interviews. Hereby this dissertation contributes to the research fields of ambidexterity, private and public sector management as well as to practice in a threefold way. First, we developed new theoretical insights to enhance the ambidexterity framework. It is our in-depth focus on a diversity of organizations that has led towards detailed insights into what the precise meaning is of ambidexterity in diverse contexts. In addition, throughout the diverse chapters this multifocal perspective has lead towards alternative assumptions and, even, an alternative ambidextrous design, team ambidexterity, focusing on a team level of analysis. What is more is that we developed a new ambidexterity measure which overcomes the pitfalls of previous measures. Second, our findings of the diverse chapters can be used as guidelines for organizations located in dynamic, turbulent and intense environments that are searching for a manner to establish diverse growth goals. Finally, our constant critical point of view towards our own work as well as the broader ambidexterity field has led in a final chapter towards interesting future research paths. Therefore, this dissertation as well as this public defence can be seen as an exciting starting point of an endless journey…

Url: https://www.uantwerpen.be/nl/faculteiten/toegepaste-economische-wetenschappen/onderzoek-innovatie/doctoral-programme/