Alliance management teams; unique yet varied
In today’s globalizing and technology-driven world, engaging in strategic alliances and forming alliance teams is becoming increasingly crucial. These teams can be joint venture management teams, buyer-supplier partnership teams, and inter-organizational new product development teams. They differ from intra-organizational teams because they need to balance vested interests across organizations; there is a lack of unified hierarchy and authority in which the team operates; and often team boundaries across organizations are permeable and unstable.
In our research, published in Human Relations, we systematically reviewed the literature and identified three main characteristics that alliance management teams have in common yet vary on in meaningful ways. First, teams differ in their level of “factionalism”, this is the extent to which interests compete between (groups of) representatives in alliance teams, for instance relating to resources or authority. Second, they differ in their “scope of responsibilities” which can range from clearly defined tasks with relatively few resources to integrate across organizations, to ill-defined tasks with a broad range of resources to integrate. Finally, alliance management teams can have loosely delineated boundaries or clear boundaries, which make the team less or more “groupy”. This we call “team entitativity”, the extent to which the team is one coherent group. Together, these three dimensions suggest a three-dimensional landscape, in which any alliance management team can be positioned.
Three dimensions suggest a three-dimensional landscape, in which any alliance management team can be positioned.
Practitioner takeaways from our work
In our article, we show how this 3D landscape brings together a range of managerial practices that were previously unconnected. In particular, we illustrate how our framework can be applied to leadership practices:
- For instance, in teams that have weak factionalism, a narrow scope of responsibility, and high entitativity, leaders should stimulate a shared team identity to prevent teams from breaking along the factions and form informal connections outside the alliance teams (to favor exchange of knowledge beyond team’s boundaries). When factionalism is high, however, a shared team identity might threaten factional identities and strengthen “us and them” dynamics.
- Leadership needs to develop as alliance management teams develop within the 3D landscape. As teams transition from narrow to wide scope of responsibility, for instance, shared leadership is likely to become less effective. It magnifies the chance of dysfunctional conflicts in a context of unknown goals, tasks, and roles.
Our work shows that it is essential to align the way to manage and lead alliance teams with the teams’ factionalism, scope of responsibility, and entitativity in order for alliance teams to be effective.
Taken together, alliance management teams are unique, yet they vary widely. Our work shows that it is essential to align the way to manage and lead alliance teams with the teams’ factionalism, scope of responsibility, and entitativity in order for alliance teams to be effective. More broadly, the 3D conceptualization and systematic review, provide a solid foundation for understanding alliance teams, and for further research on this topic.