Ronald W. Lawrence, Fielding's School of Human & Organizational Development
Many attributes and conditions of interorganizational relationships have been identified, with numerous contingencies such as reciprocity, efficiency, stability, and legitimacy frequently assessed as driving the formation and evolution of successful interorganizational relationships. This case study describes the creation and evolution of the Mayflower Group: a knowledge-sharing consortium that has attracted many of the world’s largest, financially successful companies as members. Explanatory case study methodology is used to determine why large, well-resourced corporate entities choose to create, join, and support this knowledge-sharing consortium. Contingency factors that contribute to a knowledge-sharing consortium’s longevity and goal-achievement are examined and considered.
Successful interorganizational relationships rely on one role in particular to make the relationship work: the boundary spanner – in this case, the individual(s) who is employed within one organization and works as a representative within another organizational context. Such individuals have a dual identity and must effectively bridge two or more organizations. In the Mayflower Group, the member representatives from each company play these critical boundary spanner roles. Data have been collected through in-depth interviews, archival document analysis, and direct observations. The methodology included a thorough review of 40 years’ worth of meeting minutes, presentations, and assorted documents, noting themes across this extensive history. The methodology also included identifying key players and conducting interviews with various Mayflower Group member representatives of varying tenures with the consortium, ranging from boundary spanners covering the full 40 years to boundary spanners with less than five years in the group. The cumulative data record enabled me to reconstruct the process through which this consortium was created and evolved.
Findings support that the contingency factors of reciprocity and legitimacy are primary motivating factors in a learning-driven, knowledge-sharing consortium’s growth and longevity, and the Mayflower Group’s evolution as well as its member company motives and actions are best explained by organizational learning theory and institutional theory. There is supporting evidence that the consortium’s outcomes are significantly enabled by active participation of the boundary spanners as a collective, and that boundary spanner engagement is high because (a) they derive significant personal benefits in the forms of career-advancement, skills-building, and personal development; and (b) enjoy meaningful social interactions as a community of practice.
These are potentially transferable findings about boundary spanners and interorganizational relationships that could be considered by other companies contemplating or actively engaging in such linkages.
Key Words: consortium, interorganizational relationships, boundary spanners, contingency factors, reciprocity, legitimacy, organizational learning theory, institutional theory, knowledge-sharing, community of practice, social capital, Mayflower Group
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