Senem Güney, David Ing, and Ian Simmonds
For companies, adopting initiatives of business relations is one method of survival in an economic environment, where there is an increasingly higher demand on strategic sharing of resources. Therefore, it is common for large companies to engage in plans to pursue their interests in inter-organizational relations among their distinct internal groups. However, in cases where engagement in such relations is imposed by decisions from above, the fact that sustainability of an inter-organizational relation depends upon the actions of those working within and adjacent to the relation is usually ignored.
Plans for melding two or more organizations into a business relation may require a radical revamping of the way "things get done," which indicates a significant shift in the prior identities of these organizations. Accordingly, the governance of a business relation-how the relation steers and is steered- is influenced by two important factors: a) the strength of the prior identities of the organizations in relation; and b) how closely their heritages are brought together through mediating spaces-socially, physically and informatically.
This paper proposes a framework of building sustainable inter-organizational relations based on representation of organizational identities and sensemaking. We ground our framework in a reflection of an ethnographic case study. This study describes the definition process for an IBM server product in the context of a new relation between two organizationally and geographically separated IBM groups with a prior history of competition. Figuring out what actions are meaningful in the building of a relation between organizations characterizes sensemaking in organizations. In our framework, we highlight the interplay among purpose, identity and mediating spaces as factors in sensemaking that takes place as organizations transform to engage in business relations.
Organizational participants try to make sense of what would be the appropriate set of actions in a new business relation from a background of prior experiences. For the relation to sustain itself, this process should lead key participants to identify with the legitimacy of the new organizational system as a whole as well as the legitimacy of the other participants that take part in this system. Therefore, building inter-organizational relations is very much about formulating a shared identity from a set of multiple identities between the organizations in relation.
Our framework is based on the understanding that a shared identity takes form within social, physical and informatic mediating spaces. Consequently, proximity and distance between these spaces can lead to very different identities. Just as the sustainability of the relation can be enabled or disabled by the definition of roles and accountabilities, it can also be influenced through geographic proximity or remoteness, and the presence or absence of shared information artifacts.
Senem Güney, David Ing, and Ian Simmonds, "Plans, Organizational Identity, and Mediating Spaces in Inter-organizational Relations", in Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Systems Thinking in Management, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, May 19-21, 2004.