Sub-theme 51: Top Managers and Strategizing

Julia Balogun
University of Liverpool, United Kingdom
Shenghui Ma
University of Zurich, Switzerland
Ann Langley
HEC Montréal, Canada

Call for Papers

Over the last few years, there has been an increasing interest in studying the micro-activities and interactions of actors involved in strategy making (Golsorkhi et al., 2015; Johnson, Langley et al., 2007; Whittington, 2006). Although this research has generated valuable insights on different types of strategy actors, such as middle managers (Balogun & Johnson, 2004; Rouleau & Balogun, 2011), we believe that there is room for more concerted attention to the roles and activities of top managers in this process. While there is a vast literature on the links between top managers and strategy, most studies focus on the demographic or personality composition of top management teams (TMTs) (Finkelstein et al., 2009; Nielsen, 2010). As a result, our understanding of what top managers actually do in the strategy process is still relatively limited (Jarzabkowski, 2008). Given the prominent role of top managers in strategizing, there is clearly a need to investigate their activities and interactions in order to more fully understand how strategy is shaped in organizations. In recent years, a number of such studies have begun to appear (Balogun et al., 2015; Edmondson et al., 2003; Jarzabkowski, 2008; Jarzabkowski & Wilson, 2002; Kisfalvi et al., 2016; Liu & Maitlis, 2014; Ma & Seidl, 2016; Ma et al., 2015; Samra-Fredericks, 2003), and it is the goal of this sub-theme to focus on the activities of top managers and TMTs in strategizing to encourage the development and integration of emerging research in this area.
Studies on top managers and strategizing can advance strategy research in at least four areas. First, by exploring the activities and interactions of top managers inside and outside TMTs, studies can provide rich insights into the contextual, interpersonal, processual and temporal dynamics of strategizing at the apex of an organization (Denis et al., 2001). Such insights can enrich our understanding of strategy as a dynamic phenomenon and help resolve the “black-box” problem frequently raised in connection with demographic research on strategic leadership (Lawrence, 1997). Second, scholars can generate insights into the intervening mechanisms linking strategy work and outcomes. For example, existing studies have shown the importance of certain TMT processes (e.g., behavioral integration) but we know little about how they can be managed to ensure the effectiveness of decision-making. Third, such studies can also provide a better understanding of the co-evolution between characteristics of top managers as strategists (e.g., identity or legitimacy) and their strategizing activities, a topic that is important but has been underexplored. Finally, we need to know more about the interactions between top-level managers and other managers as responsibility for strategic change spreads outwards and downwards and how this influences strategizing.
This call for studying top managers and strategizing also responds to the main theme of this year’s EGOS Colloquium “The Good Organization – Aspirations, Interventions, Struggles.” This theme suggests the importance of ethical and moral concerns, in effective management. Top managers may need to integrate multiple and often conflicting goals into their strategy. Studies focused on the strategizing activities of top managers can help generate insights into how they actually go about dealing with the issues of being a “good” organization: what challenges do they face when pursing multiple aspirations, how do they deal with such challenges and how do they mobilize intervening mechanisms to do so.
In order to explore the topics discussed above, we call for papers that deal with the various aspects of strategizing activities in which top managers and TMTs are involved. We are interested both in conceptual and empirical papers utilizing a range of theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches. Possible topics for contributions include, but are not restricted to the following issues:
Activities of top managers in forming and realizing strategies

  • How do top managers engage in front-stage and back-stage activities of strategizing?
  • How do top managers translate strategic plans to strategic actions?
  • How do they push strategies to the front line?
  • How do top managers sequence their interventions in realizing a strategy or strategic change?

Different types of top managers in strategizing

  • What are the strategic roles of different types of top managers, such as CEOs, functional managers, divisional managers, senior staff (e.g., strategy officer), and subsidiary executives?
  • What are their particular challenges and how do they deal with them in strategizing?

Interplay between top managers as strategists and their activities

  • How does a top manager’s or a TMT’s identity, legitimacy, image, reputation, emotions or power shape, enable or constrain their strategizing activities?
  • How is a top manager’s or a TMT’s identity, legitimacy, image, reputation or power shaped by their strategizing activities and outcomes?

TMT processes in strategizing and intervention

  • How do top managers interact in the TMT to develop and implement strategies?
  • What are the behavioral processes and patterns in TMTs and how do they influence strategizing activities and outcomes?
  • How do different types of TMTs (e.g., with divisional structure vs. functional structure) operate in strategizing?
  • How do CEOs (or others) manage TMT processes to mitigate their negative influence?

TMT formation/evolution and its relation to strategy

  • How are TMTs formed and how does that influence their strategizing activities?
  • What are the drivers and constraints of configuring a TMT?
  • Why are particular individuals included or excluded?
  • How do TMTs evolve over time in terms of their composition and processes?
  • How do TMT processes and the strategizing activities co-evolve over time?

Strategizing of top managers and TMTs in various contexts

  • How do top managers and TMTs strategize in different organizational contexts, e.g., during fast growth vs. performance declining?
  • How do top managers and TMTs strategize in different institutional (e.g., public organizations, NGOs, etc.) and cultural contexts?



  • Balogun, J., Bartunek, J.M., & Do, B. (2015): “Senior managers’ sensemaking and responses to strategic change.” Organization Science, 26 (4), 960–979.
  • Balogun, J., & Johnson, G. (2004): “Organizational restructuring and middle manager sensemaking.” Academy of Management Journal, 47 (4), 523–549.
  • Denis, J.L., Lamothe, L., & Langley, A. (2001): “The dynamics of collective leadership and strategic change in pluralistic organizations.” Academy of Management Journal, 44 (4), 809–837.
  • Edmondson, A.C., Roberto, M.A., & Watkins, M.D. (2003): “A dynamic model of top management team effectiveness: Managing unstructured task streams.” The Leadership Quarterly, 14 (3), 297–325.
  • Finkelstein, S., Hambrick, D.C., & Cannella, A.A. (2009): Strategic Leadership: Theory and Research on Executives, Top Management Teams, and Boards. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Golsorkhi, D., Rouleau, L., Seidl, D., & Vaara, E. (eds.) (2015): Cambridge Handbook of Strategy as Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Jarzabkowski, P. (2008): “Shaping strategy as a structuration process.” Academy of Management Journal, 51 (4), 621–650.
  • Jarzabkowski, P., & Wilson, D.C. (2002): “Top teams and strategy in a UK university.” Journal of Management Studies, 39 (3), 355–381.
  • Johnson, G., Langley, A., Melin, L., & Whittington, R. (2007): Strategy as Practice: Research Directions and Resources. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Kisfalvi, V., Sergi, V., & Langley, A. (2016): “Managing and mobilizing microdynamics in top management teams to achieve behavioral integration.” Long Range Planning, 49 (4), 427–446.
  • Lawrence, B.S. (1997): “The black box of organizational demography.” Organization Science, 8 (1), 1–22.
  • Liu, F., & Maitlis, S. (2014): “Emotional Dynamics and Strategizing Processes: A Study of Strategic Conversations in Top Team Meetings.” Journal of Management Studies, 51 (2): 202–234.
  • Ma, S., & Seidl, D. (2016): “New CEOs and their collaborators: Divergence and convergence between the strategic leadership constellation and the top management team.” Strategic Management Journal, forthcoming.
  • Ma, S., Seidl, D., & Guérard, S. (2015): “The new CEO and the post-succession process: An integration of past research and future directions.” International Journal of Management Reviews, 17 (4), 460–482.
  • Nielsen, S. (2010): “Top management team diversity: A review of theories and methodologies.” International Journal of Management Reviews, 12 (3), 301–316.
  • Rouleau, L., & Balogun, J. (2011): “Middle managers, strategic sensemaking, and discursive competence.” Journal of Management Studies, 48 (5), 953–983.
  • Samra-Fredericks, D. (2003): “Strategizing as lived experience and strategists’ everyday efforts to shape strategic direction.” Journal of Management Studies, 40 (1), 141–174.
  • Whittington, R. (2006): “Completing the practice turn in strategy research.” Organization Studies, 27 (5), 613–634.
Julia Balogun is Director of School and Professor of Strategic Management at University of Liverpool Management School, UK. Her research focuses on strategy-as-practice, with a particular interest in strategic change and renewal within large mature corporations. She has a concern for how strategic activity is initiated and championed at multiple levels within organizations, exploring the strategizing work of both senior executives and middle managers. Her work is widely published in journals such as ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Organization Science’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, ‘Journal of International Business Studies’. Her book “Exploring Strategic Change” is in its fourth edition.
Shenghui Ma is a Senior Researcher at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. His research focuses on CEO succession, top management team dynamics, strategic change and sensemaking. He is particularly interested in the dynamics of how CEOs interact with other actors inside and outside their TMT in strategic decision making. He is currently a representative-at-large for the Strategy Practice IG at the Strategic Management Society. His work has been published in ‘International Journal of Management Reviews’ and ‘Strategic Management Journal’.
Ann Langley is Chair in Strategic Management in Pluralistic Settings at HEC Montréal, Canada. Her research focuses on strategic change, top management team dynamics and the practice of strategy in complex organizations. She is particularly interested in process-oriented research and methodology. She has published over 70 articles in refereed journals and is coeditor of the journal ‘Strategic Organization’. She is also coeditor with Haridimos Tsoukas of a book series ‘Perspectives on Process Organization Studies’ published by Oxford University Press. She is Adjunct Professor at Université de Montréal, the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration (NHH) and University of Gothenburg, Sweden.