Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Network Governance between Individual and Collective Goals: Qualitative Evidence from Six Networks

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Network Governance between Individual and Collective Goals: Qualitative Evidence from Six Networks

Article excerpt

The article presents the results of an explorative study in six interfirm networks. Based on the assumption that the absence of clear objectives is considered as a specific aspect of leadership in networks, the aim of this paper is to identify central types of goal conflicts and how participants deal with such conflicts in interfirm collaboration. Different formal and informal mechanisms of network governance will be illustrated to address different types of conflicts. The findings will be related to leadership in interfirm networks. Both formal as well as informal governance mechanisms are understood as specific leadership mechanisms corresponding to the three leadership media within collaborations--structures, processes, and network participants--as they serve to influence and shape the agenda of an interfirm network. Keywords: goal conflicts, governance mechanisms, interorganizational collaboration, leadership

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New organizational forms, such as interfirm networks, call for an increased relevance and for new kinds of leadership (Huxham & Vangen, 2004; Shamir, 1999). Network research, however, normally deals with characteristics, advantages as well as disadvantages and success factors of interfirm networks (Smith Ring & Van de Ven, 1994; Ebers, 1999; Sydow, 2004) and neglects leadership issues (Huxham & Vangen, 2001). Consequently, the question about shifting boundaries of leadership and changed leadership tasks and functions are hardly addressed by the literature. Leadership in interfirm network differs from the classical leadership understanding. This holds true as leader-follower relations based on formal structures and hierarchy are absent and joint objectives, which within a company are introduced by a higher level of hierarchy, are subject of negotiation and often conflict (Huxham & Vangen, 2001). These differences emerge from the characteristics of interfirm collaboration, such as coexistence of collective and individual objectives without a clear formal hierarchy, polycentric and temporary power allocation without formal power resources, and interdependence of the network participants (e.g. Huxham & Vangen, 2000a; Kickert, Klijn, & Koppenjan, 1997; Shamir, 1999).

In this article I follow the definition of leadership in interfirm networks provided by Huxham and Vangen (2001). Consequently, leadership is the mechanisms which mean to shape and implement the agenda of the collaboration. Three leadership media could be identified--structures, processes, and network participants. Structures play an important role as leadership medium in interorganizational networks since they influence key aspects like the influence on the network agenda, the power to act plus the relevance of resources (Huxham & Vangen, 2001). In a similar way, processes are relevant. Processes defined as the formal and informal instruments by which a network's communication takes place on the one hand provide resources for the partnership members to communicate. On the other hand, to control these resources enables network members to influence the collaboration. Leadership by participants means that any network member who has the power and know-how to influence and enact a partnership agenda may take the lead (Huxham & Vangen, 2001). Specific leadership activities are for example: managing power, representing and mobilizing member organizations, or enthusing and empowering those who can deliver collaboration aims. The power to influence could emerge from the structural position of a participant. Network members can enact more power when holding a central position. According to Huxham and Vangen (2001) the three leadership media are clearly interlinked. Structures influence processes and network member's behavior. Processes influence the emergence of structures and thus, who can set agendas. Participants influence the design of both structures and processes. Consequently, leadership in networks is not only enacted by network members identified as leaders but also by structures and communication processes embedded within the network (Huxham & Vangen, 2000b). …

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