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Home | Events Archive | Keeping it together: A process perspective of forming and sustaining meta-organizations without a central

Keeping it together: A process perspective of forming and sustaining meta-organizations without a central

  • Series
    ABRI Seminar (Vrije Universiteit)
  • Speakers
    Ann-Kristin Zobel (University of St. Gallen, Switzerland)
  • Field
    Management Science
  • Location
  • Date and time

    March 02, 2021
    12:00 - 13:00

ABRI would like to invite you to an ABRI webinar given by Professor Ann-Kristin Zobel (University of St. Gallen, Switzerland) - “Keeping it together: A process perspective of forming and sustaining meta-organizations without a central architect”. You will find more information in the abstract below.

The webinar will take place on Tuesday, March 2, from 12:00 – 13:00. For the zoom link and the password please contact m.t.stori@vu.nl.


Meta-organizations are diffusing rapidly as a form of distributed organizing. Its constituent firms face dual embeddedness as they are subject to both system-level goals within the meta-organizational context and their individual corporate-level goals. Extant research has so far focused on meta-organizations that are orchestrated by a central architect that sets and enforces system-level goals and coordinates hierarchically. However, alternative forms of meta-organizations exist consisting of members that share similar horizontal positions. This begs the question of how and why meta-organizations form, organize, and sustain if goals and rules are not centrally enforced. Through an in-depth longitudinal case study of a meta-organization formed to address the global transformation of the energy sector, we examine this question and find the following results. First, during the formation phase, the meta-organization established ‘purpose multiplicity’ - a set of loosely defined intentions. Second, we identified a set of (re)purposing strategies: transformational-, strategic-, relational-, and intertemporal repurposing, via which the meta-organization vacillated between emphasizing system- vs. corporate-level goals and was thus, able to sustain. Third, we identified a set of organizing principles that differ in the degree to which they draw more from hierarchical vs. heterarchical dimensions. These organizing principles help to explain how meta-organizational repurposing and vacillation across system- and corporate-level goals was achieved. Combining these findings, we propose a process model that sheds light on the formation, evolution, and organization of meta-organizations that lack a central architect. The result is a preliminary theory on distributed organizing and inter-firm collaboration in meta-organizations with no central authority.


Ann-Kristin Zobel is Associate Professor for Management at the University of St. Gallen. She holds a B.Sc. in International Business, an M.Sc. in Business Research, and a Ph.D. titled ‘Open Innovation: A Dynamic Capabilities Perspective’ from Maastricht University in the Netherlands. During her doctoral studies, she held a visiting researcher position at the University of California Berkeley (USA). Upon completing her Ph.D., she took a postdoctoral position from 2013 to 2015 at the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley (USA). In 2015 she joined the Group for Sustainability and Technology at the Department of Management, Technology and Economics, ETH Zurich as a senior researcher.

Ann-Kristin Zobel’s research focuses on how firms strategically manage collaborative forms of innovation (e.g. open innovation, innovation ecosystems, meta-organizations). In particular, she investigates how firms search for and absorb knowledge residing outside their boundaries, how they coordinate and govern more complex multi-party collaborations, and how they capture value in a collaborative innovation setting. In these fields, she has published numerous articles in leading academic journals (e.g. Journal of Management Studies, Academy of Management Perspectives, Journal of Product Innovation Management). In her current work, she focuses on the energy sector as an ideal setting for empirically investigating collaborative strategies in a technologically complex and turbulent environment. In a recently acquired project from the National Research Program “Digital Transformation” (NRP 77), she extends her analysis of collaborative strategies to the digital transformation of energy and mobility solutions in the context of smart cities.

Prof. Zobel is a member of the organizing committee of the “World Open Innovation Conference”, a leading innovation conference that combines academic and industry perspectives. Since 2016, she has been co-leading (with a colleague at the Stanford Graduate School of Business) a research project on “Free Electrons”, a consortium of ten international energy utilities and works closely with these industry partners to transfer her scientific findings into practice. She also served as a member of the board and head of the work package “Energy, Innovation & Management” of the SCCER-CREST (Competence Center for Research in Energy, Society and Transition), which works in close cooperation with industry partners and develops strategic and political recommendations for the energy transition in Switzerland.