Towards a novel approach to implementing ambidexterity: a systematic literature review and dynamic multi-level framework

Chen, Juan
An ambidextrous organisation exhibits a notable propensity for survival due to its ability to engage in both exploitative activities, aimed at incremental innovation to attain short-term competitive advantage, and explorative activities, focused on discontinuous innovation to secure a long-term competitive advantage. However, organisations struggle to implement ambidextrous practices. Previous research has offered three main approaches to organisational ambidexterity: (a) a sequential approach which temporally separates the two activities and advocates conducting one after the other, (b) a structural approach which structurally separates the two activities, and conducts them in two separate units, and (c) a contextual approach which creates a supporting context and encourages individuals to conduct both activities simultaneously. Most researchers advocate that using one of the three approaches is sufficient to foster ambidexterity. However, empirical studies, especially longitudinal ones, reveal that one approach is not enough to address the challenges of fast-changing environments. As a result, there is a growing trend to combine or blend different approaches over time. Despite its importance, there is a dearth of research on this topic and a lack of a generally accepted framework to guide organisations in this endeavour. Therefore, this research proposes a framework to foster ambidexterity by combining structural, contextual, and sequential ambidexterity over time. To do this, a systematic literature review of previous research on this topic was conducted to analyse prior work in the domain. The analysis of 48 relevant articles revealed the existence of three main mechanisms that combine different types of ambidexterity: (a) a multi-level mechanism that blends different types of ambidexterity into different levels; (b) a dynamic capability mechanism which integrates, develops, and reconfigures approaches and resources, and (c) a pragmatic mechanism that suggests combining different approaches to ambidexterity based on the situation at hand. Each of these three approaches has advantages and disadvantages. To help firms to achieve long-term survival, this research creates a new framework, based on prior work, which (1) considers a pragmatic approach and adopts a temporal perspective using different approaches over time, (2) follows a multi-level approach to blend different approaches into business-unit, project, organisational and managerial levels, (3) follows the dynamic capability approach to sense external changes, seize an idea and reconfigure the firm’s resources and structure to enable effective implementation of the ambidexterity. This work contributes to the advancement of organisational ambidexterity theory by offering a novel framework that allows to combination of different types of ambidexterity. Furthermore, the results enable practitioners to have a better understanding of how to use different types of ambidexterity to dynamically balance explorative and exploitative activities over time.
University of Galway
Publisher DOI
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International