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Selective Intervention and Internal HybridsInterpreting and Learning from the Rise and Decline of the Oticon Spaghetti Organization

  • Nicolai J. Foss

Infusing hierarchies with elements of market control has become a much-used way of simultaneously increasing entrepreneurialism and motivation in firms. However, this paper argues that such “internal hybrids,” particularly in their radical forms, are inherently hard to successfully design and implement, because of fundamental credibility problems related to managerial promises to not intervene in delegated decision-making ¾ an incentive problem that is often referred to as the “problem of selective intervention.” This theoretical theme is developed and illustrated, using the case of the world-leading Danish hearing aids producer, Oticon. In the beginning of the 1990s, Oticon became famous for its radical internal hybrid, the ”spaghetti organization.” Recent work has interpreted the spaghetti organization as a radical attempt to foster dynamic capabilities by imposing loose coupling on the organization, neglecting, however, that about a decade later, the spaghetti organization has given way to a more traditional matrix organization. This paper presents an organizational economics interpretation of organizational changes in Oticon, and argues that a strong liability of the spaghetti organization was the above incentive problem. Motivation in Oticon was strongly harmed by selective intervention on the part of top-management Changing the organizational structure was one means of repairing these motivational problems. Refutable implications are developed, both for the understanding of efficient design of internal hybrids, and for the more general issue of the distinction between firms and markets, as well as the choice between internal and external hybrids.

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Paper provided by DRUID, Copenhagen Business School, Department of Industrial Economics and Strategy/Aalborg University, Department of Business Studies in its series DRUID Working Papers with number 01-16.

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Date of creation: 2001
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Handle: RePEc:aal:abbswp:01-16
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.druid.dk/

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  1. Nicolai J. Foss, 1996. "Firms, Incomplete Contracts and Organizational Learning," DRUID Working Papers 96-2, DRUID, Copenhagen Business School, Department of Industrial Economics and Strategy/Aalborg University, Department of Business Studies.
  2. Peter Maskell, 1996. "Localised Low-tech Learning in the Furniture Industry," DRUID Working Papers 96-11, DRUID, Copenhagen Business School, Department of Industrial Economics and Strategy/Aalborg University, Department of Business Studies.
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