Using Theories in Concert

Using Theories in Concert

There is a path-dependent trajectory to the evo- lution of theories, in that initial ideas beget reac- tions and incremental shifts of attention as the theory itself becomes the focus. Organizational scholars focus their energies on expanding a the- ory from within its evolving parameters. The the- ory might once have been put forward as an ac- count of a certain phenomenon, but that

82 NovemberAcademy of Management Perspectives

phenomenon later takes a back seat to the theory itself. As Tsoukas and Knudsen put it, the works of researchers are “shaped by their own paradigmatic preferences, the prevailing zeitgeist, and the . . . norms within which their work takes place” (2003, p. 11).

One consequence of the insularity of theory development is that the need or the ability to connect the focal perspective with other perspec- tives is often afforded a low priority and/or is portrayed as difficult because “the information processing demands on organization theory schol- ars are increasing” (McKinley, Mone, & Moon, 1999, p. 636). There are exceptions, as when Oliver (1991) combined institutional and re- source dependence theories (see also Baum, 1996, and Roberts & Greenwood, 1997), but these are notable precisely because they are unusual, even though, paradoxically, they typically generate considerable insight. However, the advantage of using theories in combination becomes quickly evident when examining organizational design. The researcher’s attention is less trammeled by the overarching framework of any one theory and focuses instead on the empirical problem. In this way, insights into complex organizations can be enhanced by the joint application of mature the- ories that are chosen because of their relevance to the particular type of organization and design problem at hand.

To illustrate how the use of theories in concert can help unlock the daunting complexity of con- temporary organizational designs, we apply three theories— contingency theory, the resource-based view, and institutional theory—to the transna- tional PSF. Contingency theory has been instru- mental in the study of design in general, the resource-based view has helped to make its rec- ommendations more tailored and specific to a type of firm, and institutional theory has been shown to be especially useful in our understanding of professional organizations. In combining these theories, we repeatedly return to the importance of capturing the configuration of design elements. Our purpose here, in other words, is to show how theoretical lenses together can be a powerful means through which to understand the nuances and complexities of design.

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