Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Understanding the sociology and psychology of human actions


The department of Organization Studies studies organizations from a relational perspective. The relational perspective is rooted in the social and behavioral sciences. The focus is on interorganizational relations and networks, relations and cooperation within organizations and the relations of organizations with their institutional environment. For the study of these topics the department has formed three so-called topic groups:

  • Interorganizational Relations and Networks
  • Intra-organizational Relations/ Organizational Behavior
  • Institutions and Strategy

Besides the three topic groups on institutions, inter- and intraorganizational relations, researchers of the department are engaged in working groups on two overarching themes:

  • Innovation and learning
  • Temporary organizations
These themes are considered as overarching, since they pull together aspects and perspectives from the three topics mentioned above.

All members of the department participate with their research in at least one of these topic and thematic groups. The groups have brown bag meetings on a regular basis in which they discuss developments in their field of interest, exchange ideas, present their work in progress and collaborate in common research projects. Although each group consists of a number of core members, the meetings and activities are open to all faculty and PhD students.

The department has an active internationalization strategy. Renowned scholars from foreign universities have an appointment as rotating chairs in the department or are invited to stay in the department as visiting professors. Researchers from all over the world come to give presentations and discuss research during the departmental seminars or brown bag meetings. Faculty and PhD students frequently pay visits to other universities to present their work in progress or to collaborate with colleagues.

Interorganizational Relations and Networks

Networks of inter-organizational relations have been a ubiquitous phenomenon. There is a growing consensus in the literature that an organization's involvement in inter-organizational collaborative relationships matters for its performance. Research on inter-organizational relations has initially focused on the questions 'why' and 'when' such relations are formed. More recently, the literature has developed an embeddedness perspective on inter-organizational relations, by considering them as networks of social relations. Here, the network embeddedness perspective has delivered useful insights into mechanisms such as the role of social capital, relational and structural embeddedness, preferential attachment and so on. Whereas this embeddedness perspective forms the foundation of the network topic group, the network topic group is currently developing a research program that aims to contribute to the 'next-generation' in network research. This 'next-generation' research agenda considers topics that have been ignored by or abstracted from in the literature until now. Such issues are, among others, the origins and evolution of networks, goal-directed 'whole' networks, distrust in networks, the role of geographical distance, inclusion of nodal properties ('partner attributes'), entrepreneurship and radical innovation in networks. In addition, the topic group is currently developing an advanced panel database of interorganizational collaborative relationships, in consultation with some top-scholars in the field.

Intra-organizational Relations/ Organizational Behavior

Most organizations use some sort of group work to accomplish a variety of tasks from decision-making and problem solving to strategy development and product innovation. Recent theoretical developments emphasize the role of group cognition and affect on group performance. The common research interest of the OB research group focuses on the Cognitive Affective Dynamics of Organizational Teams (CADOT). We combine insights from several research traditions (team dynamics, cognition and emotion, psychological contracts and social networks) to explore the way in which organizational groups perform. In particular, we are interested in the interplay of cognition and emotion in groups and we explore topics like: (1) power disparity, emotion regulation, conflict and performance in teams; (2) cultural values and conflict management in groups; (3) coping styles and conflict management in teams; (4) emotional expressiveness and authentic leadership in teams. Another research area of the group approaches group psychological contract from a team cognition perspective and has as main topics: (1) psychological contracts as shared mental models; (2) transactive memory system and the violation of psychological contracts in teams. Moreover, we explore the implications of social capital for team dynamics and effectiveness and address topics like: (1) diversity and social capital in teams; (2) bridging and bonding social ties in teams; (3) using social capital to design effective teams. Finally, we are interested in the emergence of team cognition as a group level phenomenon and related to this we address topics like: (1) diversity and emergence of group cognition; (2) minority influence and group cognitive complexity; (3) GCC and group performance; (4) group and organizational identity as a shared cognition.

Institutions and Strategy

The initial baseline model of neo-institutional theory is a behavioral model predicting that institutional pressures strongly impact on organizational behavior, like in a stimulus - response mode, emphasizing notions of isomorphism and homogeneity of organizational forms and practices. More recently, institutional scholars have begun to address the question why actors do not conform to institutional pressures and behave strategically. In line with this latter stream of research a group of researchers at the Department of Organization Studies aims to develop a micro-level foundation of institutional analysis. Traditionally, most of the institutional literature has taken the organizational field as its level of analysis and subsequently studied the strategic responses of categories of organizations. This study looks inside organizations to examine how individual organizations process institutional pressures and subsequently respond to pressures for change. Connecting institutional theory with the microfoundations at the intra-organizational level may yield new insights.

There are three important areas that will be addressed. First, organizations are political arenas in which multiple groups of actors equipped with differential power (e.g. a supervisory board, executives, departments or employees) interact to pursue their own interests. Moreover, the social context and cultural embeddedness of each of these groups of stakeholders varies to a large extent. This context presumably shapes strategic responses and filters institutional pressures allowing variety in responses. There has been little empirical and conceptual work in this area. Second, with these different groups of actors being involved in influencing strategic responses it is clear that the perceptions and cognitive representations of institutional pressures will differ. If we think of the governance structure of corporations, it is likely that supervisory boards, executives, managers and employees will represent institutional pressures differently, largely depending on their interests, position, and ambitions. Again, there is little empirical work that has looked at cognitive representations of organizational actors to explain varying strategic responses to institutional pressures. Third, we know very little about the timing of these responses. Many studies have looked at the motivations for adoption of new practices, but did not examine when firms decide to adopt such practices. We want to explore what intraorganizational variables affect the timing of strategic responses, since we do not know when actors respond to institutional pressures. As such, we can generate more insight in when practices become institutionalized in a field.

Currently, several projects are conducted in a variety of different settings. In a university setting a study has been conducted about the diffusion of innovations and the institutional mechanisms affect the rate of resource acquisition. In the childcare industry, the strategic responses of managers are being examined under conditions of strong institutional pressures. A joint research project in the forestry industry has recently been initiated. In this project we argue that strategic responses to institutional pressures are not solely a function of the nature of these pressures, but also of configurations of intra-organizational variables.

Innovation and learning

Organizations innovate by undertaking activities aimed at the discovery and successful commercialization of new products, processes, services, technologies or operating methods. Innovation is one of the ways in which organizations develop the capacity through learning to enact environmental and internal dynamics in order to sustain their survival chances, and to fulfill their social functions. Innovation and learning are twin concepts. Innovation is either doing something new, or it is doing existing activities in new ways. In this sense innovation entails learning, because both resources, and knowledge and competence more specifically must be developed further in order to be able to perform the new tasks, or to perform existing tasks in new ways.

The rationale for this specific focus on innovation and learning in the broad, fragmented research area of innovation comes from recent insights about its role in modern societies. Economic growth and social welfare are no longer considered to be a product of only the labour and capital in Cobb-Douglas production functions. Nowadays also knowledge is considered to be one of the key production factors to sustain economic growth, and social welfare. This has important implications for the ways in which we look at innovation in individual companies and networks of companies. No longer can we exclusively rely on the resource based view to explain competitiveness and hence innovation. Therefore we opted for an associated set of theories: an evolutionary theory of technological trajectories, the knowledge-based view and learning theories such as trial-and-error learning, organizational learning from performance feedback, individual and social learning.

Innovation touches upon, or pulls together the three topic areas of this research program in differentiated ways. Innovation implies that organizations and their members have to be able to develop ideas, have to assemble information and develop these into knowledge that makes ideas feasible for a transformation into product or process innovation. This is the cognitive and competence part of the learning process behind innovation, but there is also a behavioral background for innovation also framed in learning theory. Not only do ideas and knowledge deepen while innovating, also behavioral repertoires driving and supporting innovation have to be broadened and deepened, have to be favored or extinguished. This is the behavioral part of learning relevant to innovation processes, and outcomes. Many innovation trajectories are organized by crossing intra-organizational and inter-organizational boundaries. Teams and networks, as well as temporary organizations are default organizational options to organize innovation and R&D, and these options come with coordination and transaction costs, because of knowledge integration efforts within teams, networks and temporary organizations.

Breakthrough innovations - inventions, but also organizational innovations - are constrained and enabled by institutional environments, simply because they either do not fit existing regulations and therefore they pose legitimacy issues. Vice versa innovations do often affect institutional dynamics in the sense the innovation communities enact social expectations in the way social movements do and demand (re-, de-) regulation or new regulation. This nicely defines the overlap with the institutional topic area.

Part of the research on innovation and learning is embedded in the interdisciplinary Center of Innovation Research, CIR (in collaboration with the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration).

Temporary organizations

Over the last decade, management practice and research have paid increasing attention to flexible organizational forms, such as inter-organizational project networks. These networks combine inter-organizational participants for the completion of a specific task involving the identification of a business opportunity and the entrepreneurial creation of a collaborative venture to exploit it. Prior research tends to highlight potential adaptive advantages of these ventures. Consequently, inter-organizational project networks have been regarded as 'wellsprings of learning and innovation' and as enabling 'flexible specialization'.

A project network is formed for the purpose of accomplishing a goal or fulfilling a task, often determined ex ante. In most cases it also has a predetermined termination point. Moreover, it can be regarded as a goal-directed inter-organizational network. Although it is an organizational form often used in several industries (construction, film-making, business services) still little is known about this phenomenon giving rise to a number of interesting research topics: (1) Description and explanation of temporal and sectoral variations in the prevalence of temporary project networks; (2) P