Organising R&D in Globalised Context: Convergence or Divergence? the Relative Influence of Dutch and Foreign Cultures on the Organisational Structure of R&D in Multinational Corporations**

Article excerpt

This paper examines national culture as an explanatory variable in the convergence versus divergence debate of R&D organisational structures. It explores the effects of globalisation on the way in which R&D processes are structured at group level. It is argued that culture may have a decisive effect on R&D group-structure. On the one hand the results of the study observe a converging trend towards a universal organisational structure under influence of a predominantly Anglo-Saxon-based culture. On the other hand, there is a persistence of differences owing to the dominance of the domestic culture on the one side and the increasing multicultural composition of the R&D staff at the laboratories on the other side, which points to divergence.

The research was conducted at eight of the ten most innovative MNCs in the Netherlands. It builds on scientific studies regarding organisational design in R&D (Chiesa 1996, 2001; Donaldson 2001; De Sitter 1998; Tidd et al. 2001) and includes the conceptual frameworks by Hofstede for analysing cultural diversity, complemented by contributions to the convergence-divergence debate (Ferner 1997; Harzing/Sorge 2003).

Key words: National Culture, Research & Development, Organisational Structure

1. Introduction

There is a broad discussion about the influence of globalisation on the structure of organisations (Harzing/Sorge 2003; Donaldson 2001; Casson/Singh 1993; Birkinshaw et al. 2002; Chiesa 1996; Ferner 1997). The main line of this debate is formed by the notions of organisational-convergence and organisational-divergence. The subject of the organisational convergence-divergence debate is: "how far organisations in different countries have travelled along a path to global convergence in operations and management and, conversely, to what extent the influence of specific cultural factors must be understood and planned if the manager is to be effective in cross-cultural situations" (Pugh/Hickson 1996: 38-99). Convergence implies a relative degree of disembeddedness of practices or structures, overriding more regionally or nationally specific institutions or behavioural predispositions. It is the result of responding to the 'rational' contingencies, such as technology, innovation, environmental change, or market change that arise in an increasingly international context, which makes them universally present. It may also be a response to institutional harmonisation through, for example, supranational government and rule making (Harzing/Sorge 2003). Divergence is conterminous with the embeddedness of organisations and other actors in regionally or nationally different societies or in any other locally more idiosyncratic arrangements (Harzing/Sorge 2003; Harzing et al. 2002).

Given the breadth of the convergence-divergence debate and its duration in time, discussions have become rather blurred because different definitions have been assigned to the same concepts (Geppert et al. 2001). Also the theoretical focus is not clear-cut when it comes down to the subject of convergence and divergence (Boyer 1996; Child 2000).

The first problem that participants of the debate are confronted with is the ambiguity about the organisational level of analysis. Cultural influence affects the organisational structure on all levels - macro, meso and micro1 - in various ways, though not always directly perceptible. This limited visibility leads to disordered use of variables at these levels, without indicating the causal and conceptual relationships between these variables (Reinhardt 2004).

In this paper, we argue that a more subtle understanding is required of the influence of national culture on organisational design, recognising the effects of culture at different levels of structure in organisations.

A second problem is the superficial operationalisation of the notion of structure that leaves the characteristics of structure on which culture exerts influence unclear (Harzing/Sorge 2003; Shane et al. …