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Coping with Problems of Understanding in Interorganizational Relationships: Using Formalization as a Means to Make Sense


Paul W.L. Vlaar


Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Department of Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship

Frans A. J. Van Den Bosch


Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Department of Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship; Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM)

H. W. Volberda


Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Rotterdam School of Management (RSM); Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM)

July 24, 2006

ERIM Report Series Reference No. ERS-2006-034-STR

Abstract:     
Research into the management of interorganizational relationships has hitherto primarily focused on problems of coordination, control and to a lesser extent, legitimacy. In this article, we assert that partners cooperating in such relationships are also confronted with ‘problems of understanding’. Such problems arise from differences between partners in terms of culture, experience, structure and industry, and from the uncertainty and ambiguity that participants in interorganizational relationships experience in early stages of collaboration. Building on Karl Weick’s theory of sensemaking, we advance that participants in interorganizational relationships use formalization as a means to make sense of their partners, the interorganizational relationships in which they are engaged and the contexts in which these are embedded so as to diminish problems of understanding. We offer a systematic overview of the mechanisms through which formalization facilitates sensemaking, including: (1) focusing participants’ attention; (2) provoking articulation, deliberation and reflection; (3) instigating and maintaining interaction; and (4) reducing judgment errors and individual biases, and diminishing incompleteness and inconsistency of cognitive representations. In this way, the article contributes to a better understanding of the relationships between formalization and sensemaking in collaborative relationships, and it carries Karl Weick’s thinking on the relationship between sensemaking and organizing forward in the context of interorganizational management.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 38

Keywords: Formalization, Sensemaking, Interorganizational Cooperation, Understanding

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Date posted: December 23, 2006  

Suggested Citation

Vlaar, Paul W.L. and Van Den Bosch, Frans A. J. and Volberda, H. W., Coping with Problems of Understanding in Interorganizational Relationships: Using Formalization as a Means to Make Sense (July 24, 2006). ERIM Report Series Reference No. ERS-2006-034-STR. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=920229

Contact Information

Paul W.L. Vlaar (Contact Author)
Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Department of Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship ( email )
RSM Erasmus University
Rotterdam, 3000 DR
Netherlands
+31 10 408 9613 (Phone)
+31 10 408 9013 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.strategyaterasmus.net
Frans A. J. Van Den Bosch
Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Department of Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship ( email )
RSM Erasmus University
Rotterdam, 3000 DR
Netherlands
+31 10 408 1955/2005 (Phone)
+31 10 453 0137 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.rsm.nl/fvandenbosch
Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM)
P.O. Box 1738
3000 DR Rotterdam
Netherlands
Henk W. Volberda
Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) ( email )
P.O. Box 1738
Room T08-21
3000 DR Rotterdam, 3000 DR
Netherlands
+31 10 408 2761 (Phone)
+31 10 408 9013 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.eur.nl/fbk/dep/dep4/faculty_members/Henk_Volberda
Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM)
P.O. Box 1738
3000 DR Rotterdam
Netherlands
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