Sub-theme 16: Collaborating across Organizational Boundaries: Dealing with Surprises in Distributed Settings

Kristina Lauche
Radboud University, The Netherlands
Hans Berends
VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Paul R. Carlile
Boston University, USA

Call for Papers

Inter-organizational collaboration is becoming increasingly prevalent. Organizations collaborate in activities including product development, the setting of technological standards, the pooling of resources and expertise, and joint service delivery. In some cases, such collaborations are strategically planned endeavours with actors consciously setting up a network (e.g. Patru et al., 2015); in other cases they arise in response to unexpected events such as the loss of the Columbia space shuttle (Beck & Plowman, 2014). In either case, actors are likely to encounter surprises, as such collaborative activities involve the integration of practices across boundaries (Bechky, 2003), which can highlight unexpected mismatches. Inter-organizational boundaries may coincide with differences in understanding and doing that challenge cross-boundary integration (Carlile, 2002).
The settings in which collaboration across organizational boundaries currently occurs are often distributed, layered, and diverse. Collaborations not only involve heterogeneous organizations, but also individual contributors and communities as partners. For instance, open source collaboration involves companies as well as individuals, and ecosystems around technological platforms involve distributed third-party developers (Yoo et al., 2012). Such distributed collaborations are often open-ended and ever evolving (Garud et al., 2008), with fluid and temporary participation, and limited recourse to hierarchical structures.
During the previous three rounds of this subtheme, we have seen a steady line of empirical papers studying practices of inter-organizational collaboration in diverse settings. We feel the time is ripe to take these more descriptive accounts to the next level of theorizing, seeking to accumulate research on processes of collaboration (Majchrzak et al., 2015). Such theoretical integration could crystallize around change mechanisms, including evolutionary theories of path dependence and creation, teleological accounts of learning and adaptation, and dialectical theories of tensions (Van de Ven & Poole, 1995; De Rond & Bouchikhi, 2004), or perspectives on organizational becoming (Tsoukas & Chia, 2002) and generativity (Yoo et al., 2012). Moreover, such theorizing should explain how dynamics depend on the setting and type of work that is being pursued.
We therefore specifically invite papers that attempt to theorize processes of collaborating across boundaries. We invite papers that develop new theory, but also submissions that refine or test process theories, and relate process dynamics it to broader theories concerning phenomena like routines, resources, knowledge, and networks. We encourage process research approaches, as these are particularly appropriate for investigating the dynamics of practices and practicing within and between organizations.
Questions and themes that may be addressed in this sub-theme include, but are not limited to:

  • What are recurrent themes and processes of initiating and developing inter-organizational collaboration across settings?

  • How do collaboration dynamics differ across settings?

  • What role does technology play in the design and emergence of inter-organizational practices?

  • How are inter-organizational practices and routines initiated, maintained, negotiated and transformed over time?

  • How do actors establish mutual forms of influence in settings beyond traditional power structures such as in supply chain management?

  • How do intra-organizational practices and inter-organizational practices interact?

  • How are activities in inter-organizational collaborations coordinated and governed between organizations, in particular if they involve actors from diverse settings with different time horizons, logics or forms of accountability such as start-up firms, government bodies, multinationals and NGOs?

  • How can we theorize the role of institutional and geographical distance in such collaboration?



  • Beck, T.E., & Plowman, D.A. (2014): “Temporary, emergent interorganizational collaboration in unexpected circumstances: A study of the Columbia space shuttle response effort.” Organization Science, 25 (4), 1234–1252
  • Carlile, P.R. (2002): “A pragmatic view of knowledge and boundaries: Boundary objects in new product development.” Organization Science, 13, 442–455.
  • De Rond, M., & Bouchikhi, H. (2004): “On the dialectics of strategic alliances.” Organization Science, 15, 56–69.
  • Garud, R., Jain, S., & Tuertscher, P. (2008): “Incomplete by design and designing for incompleteness.” Organization Studies, 29 (3), 351–371.
  • Majchrzak, A., Jarvenpaa, S.L., & Bagherzadeh, M. (2015): “A review of interorganizational collaboration dynamics.” Journal of Management, 41 (5), 1338–1360.
  • Patru, D., Lauche, K., van Kranenburg, & H., Ziggers, G.W. (2015): “Multilateral boundary spanners: Creating virtuous cycles in the development of healthcare networks.” Medical Care Research and Review, 72 (6), 665–686.
  • Tsoukas, H., & Chia, R. (2002): “On organizational becoming: Rethinking organizational change.” Organization Science, 13 (5), 567–582.
  • van de Ven, A.H., & Poole, M.S. (1995): “Explaining development and change in organizations.” Academy of Management Review, 20 (3), 510–540.
  • Yoo, Y., Boland, R. J., Lyytinen, K., & Majchrzak, A. (2012): “Organizing for innovation in the digitized world.” Organization Science, 23 (5), 1398–1408.


Kristina Lauche is the Chair of Organizational Development and Design at Nijmegen School of Management, The Netherlands. Her research addresses coordination practices across boundaries and innovating as upward influencing processes through which innovators shape organizational strategy. She draws on practice approaches to study how materiality and social interactions mediate agency in organizations. Her work has been published in journals such as ‘Organization Science’, ‘MISQ’, and ‘Journal of Product Innovation Management’.
Hans Berends is Professor of Innovation and Organization in the Knowledge, Information and Networks (KIN) Research group at VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands. His current research interests concern process dynamics of innovation, inter-organizational collaboration, and digital innovation. Paul’s work has been published in leading journals including ‘Organization Science’, ‘Organization Studies’, and ‘Journal of Management Studies’.
Paul R. Carlile is Associate Professor of Management and Information Systems and the Senior Associate Dean for Innovation at Boston University Questrom School of Business, USA. His work focuses on how the boundaries between different types of knowledge can be managed to more effectively drive collaboration, innovation and change. Paul has published in journals such as ‘Organization Science’, ‘Management Science’, and ‘ASQ’.