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Complements or substitutes? A microfoundations perspective on the interplay between drivers of ambidexterity in SMEs


Long Range Planning


Strategy and Entrepreneurship

Authors / Editors

Zimmermann A;Hill S A;Birkinshaw J;Jaeckel M

Publication Year



Research on the microfoundations of ambidexterity has identified a number of drivers that shape the ability of individuals to overcome exploration-exploitation tensions. However, little is known about how these drivers interact and whether they act as complements or substitutes. In a two-stage survey of small and medium-sized enterprises, we find that formal structural drivers and informal contextual drivers of ambidexterity do not demonstrate complementarity, as generally assumed, but rather act at cross-purposes with each other. Furthermore, we find that behaviorally complex executives (those with the ability to think and act ambidextrously) appear to render the effects of the other two drivers relatively unimportant, and are only ever associated with moderate levels of ambidexterity. These findings permit the development of important theoretical insights for ambidexterity research from a microfoundations perspective.


Ambidexterity; Microfoundations; Organization structure; Organizational context; Contextual ambidexterity; Behavioral complexity; Leadership ambidexterity

Available on ECCH


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