Academic journal article Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice

The Collaborative Network Orientation: Achieving Business Success through Collaborative Relationships

Academic journal article Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice

The Collaborative Network Orientation: Achieving Business Success through Collaborative Relationships

Article excerpt

This study presents a theoretical concept called the collaborative network orientation (CNO) and tests it using a sample of male and female small business owners. The CNO is based on (1) research that indicates female managers prefer to organize in cooperative network relationships and (2) conflict theory that indicates collaboration is preferred for both building relationships and achieving goals. Empirical tests revealed that female owners had a stronger preference for a CNO. A CNO was associated with business success for all owners, but it was significantly more positively associated with success for male business owners.

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Research reveals that compared to men, women tend to have smaller businesses and less business experience (Fischer, Reuber, & Dyke, 1993), be undercapitalized (Carter, 2000; Carter & Marlow, 2003), prefer to grow their businesses slowly (Cliff, 1998; Orser & Hogarth-Scott, 2002), place a high value on family security (Olson & Currie, 1992), and generally have a "family first" orientation (Fitzgerald & Folker, 2005). Even with these apparent deficiencies, some studies reveal that female-run businesses perform relatively well compared to male-run counterparts (Chaganti & Parasuraman, 1996; Collins-Dodd, Gordon, & Smart, 2004; Fischer et al., 1993; Kalleberg & Leicht, 1991; Watson, 2002). What accounts for this performance?

One potential explanation was unveiled in a review of research (McKay, 2001). The review revealed that compared to men, women prefer to organize in networks that include a broad range of people and to create collaborative and cooperative relationships within those networks. These networks enable women to acquire resources to meet business needs.

The theoretical explanation for these tendencies among women is that they have a propensity to view the world holistically; they view business, family, community, and society as an integrated whole, not as a separate economic entity, as is the tendency among men (Aldrich, 1989; Brush, 1992). The feminine view is that the world is a network or web of relationships and that those relationships must be preserved (Bird & Brush, 2002). This view "colors or conditions perception, values, and behavior, and is likely learned through an interaction of biology and social influence" (Bird & Brush, 2002, p. 43).

The purpose of this paper is not to test underlying motivations for female orientations, but to formalize some of their preferred orientations into a theoretical construct and to test the construct on a sample of female and male business owners. The theoretical construct is based on the literature about female tendencies as managers and on theory about cooperative problem solving from the conflict and negotiation literature. Within the conflict and negotiation literature, collaboration is the approach that most successfully addresses all parties' concerns and also maintains positive relationships. Collaboration seems to capture the manner in which women establish relationships in networks.

Therefore, in this study, we combine conflict management theory with organizing tendencies among women to create a theoretical concept called the collaborative network orientation (CNO). This theoretical concept was labeled an orientation to indicate that it is a fundamental worldview that exhibits itself in how individuals organize. Then, combining existing scales to form a measure, we test the construct on a sample of female and male business owners.

Tendencies in Female Managers

After reviewing the state of gender studies, scholars have argued that research should move beyond treating gender simply as a variable (Kantor, 2002) to recognizing feminine approaches to organizing and managing (Bird & Brush, 2002). Furthermore, researchers suggest that the gender literature should move beyond disparate commentaries to create theory and explain processes (Bird & Brush, 2002; Marlow & Patton, 2005). …

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