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Hybrid Ambidexterity: How the Environment Shapes Incumbents’ Use of Structural and Contextual Approaches

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  • Jan Ossenbrink

    () (Department of Management, Technology, and Economics, ETH Zurich, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland; Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305)

  • Joern Hoppmann

    () (Department of Management, Technology, and Economics, ETH Zurich, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland; Department of Business Administration, Economics, and Law, University of Oldenburg, 26129 Oldenburg, Germany)

  • Volker H. Hoffmann

    () (Department of Management, Technology, and Economics, ETH Zurich, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland)

Abstract

According to the literature on ambidexterity, organizations can use structural or contextual approaches to simultaneously explore novel opportunities and exploit existing ones. So far, however, we know very little about what induces organizations to focus on structural versus contextual ambidexterity, or how they combine the two approaches to maximize organizational learning. To shed more light on these questions, we investigate how the environment shapes a firm’s use of structural and contextual ambidexterity. Drawing on a comparative, longitudinal case study of the four largest electric utility companies in Germany, we show that firms focused on structural ambidexterity whenever they perceived emerging opportunities in the environment as requiring organizational culture and capabilities fundamentally different from their own. Contextual ambidexterity, on the other hand, became particularly important when opportunities in the environment were both numerous and uncertain, requiring the organization to leverage the distributed attention and expertise of its frontline employees. We show that environments characterized by opportunities that are numerous/uncertain and require novel culture and capabilities lead organizations to invest in initiatives that combine elements of both structural and contextual ambidexterity—an approach we label hybrid ambidexterity . Our theory framework synthesizes and complements existing work that has started to investigate the antecedents of structural versus contextual ambidexterity. We challenge the prevailing understanding of contextual and structural ambidexterity as dichotomous categories and reconceptualize them as two ends of a continuum. In addition, we provide initial evidence that firms’ ambidexterity approaches are influenced by managers’ perceptions of capabilities and opportunities.

Suggested Citation

  • Jan Ossenbrink & Joern Hoppmann & Volker H. Hoffmann, 2019. "Hybrid Ambidexterity: How the Environment Shapes Incumbents’ Use of Structural and Contextual Approaches," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 30(6), pages 1319-1348, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ororsc:v:30:y:2019:i:6:p:1319-1348
    DOI: 10.1287/orsc.2019.1286
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Wenwen Zhao & Taiwen Feng & Xuexiang Xin & Guangyi Hao, 2021. "How to respond to competitors' green success for improving performance: The moderating role of organizational ambidexterity," Business Strategy and the Environment, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 30(1), pages 489-506, January.
    2. Katharina Stelzl & Maximilian Röglinger & Katrin Wyrtki, 2020. "Building an ambidextrous organization: a maturity model for organizational ambidexterity," Business Research, Springer;German Academic Association for Business Research, vol. 13(3), pages 1203-1230, November.

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