A case study of an international joint venture : how key stakeholders make sense of their experience of a Sino-New Zealand collaboration.
Thesis DisciplineBusiness Administration
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
A review of the extensive international business collaboration (IBC) literature reveals scholars’ predisposition to focus on either knowledge or resources at the company level. Very little research has been conducted at the level of the key internal stakeholders within the collaborating companies that form international business alliances, commonly termed international joint ventures (IJVs). The result is that we know very little about the lived-in reality of these stakeholders who create an IJV and even less about the sense they make of their own strategy practice (SP, also called strategy-as-practice, SaP) and that of the key stakeholders in their partner company. My study sought to address these shortcomings in the literature by undertaking a qualitative, exploratory case study to uncover how key internal stakeholders in two companies collaborating in a Sino-New Zealand international joint venture (IJV) collaboration made sense of their own and the other company’s strategic actions during the development of their IJV. My study posed the following questions: How do key internal stakeholders in a particular Sino-NZ context make sense of and give sense to strategic actions related to the development and maintenance of an international business collaboration? How does this sensemaking and/or sensegiving influence international business collaboration in this case? To answer these research questions an inductive interpretive approach was adopted and three stages of interlinked data collection and analysis were conducted. Data were collected from company documents, semi-structured interviews, and limited participant observation. Interpretive analysis was performed using NVivo (10) software. In the stage 1 analysis, 39 documents and 7 interviews were used to construct two composite narratives of IJV collaboration (one for each company). In the stage 2 analysis, 16 meetings and 30 interviews were used to compare SP and practices of the two companies. The insights gained triggered the search for complementary theoretical concepts and contributed to development of the conceptual models produced in stage 3. The stage 3 analysis sought to conceptualise the disjunction in the ways the two companies made sense of the strategy practices revealed in their composite narratives and resulted in two theoretical models based on the analysis of data from 15 interviews and the Stage 1 and 2 data: a model conceptualising the sensemaking discrepancies between the partner companies in the IJV collaboration and a model of the sensemaking about performance in the IJV collaboration. These two models are the primary contributions of this study. The first model explicates 11 interrelated aspects that the analysis suggested were responsible for a sensemaking discrepancy (SMD) in the IJV collaboration. These were sensemaking about learning, sensemaking about experience, sensemaking about strategising, barriers to communication, habitus, cultural values, business practices, work environment, expectations, emotions, and beliefs. The second model conceptualises the flow of sensemaking actions that were found to constitute the complex context of the IJV collaboration and explained the participants’ sensemaking about their own and others’ performance as they maintained and developed the IJV collaboration over time. Two new concepts were created as part of the development of these models: A sensemaking discrepancy (SMD) embedded in the IJV relationship that disrupts or challenges collaboration and collaboration focused interaction (CFI) (or lack of it) which is proposed as the underlying mechanism influencing discrepancies in sensemaking about performance in an IJV collaboration. In addition to the conceptual models and the two new concepts embedded in them, three significant observations emerged from the case study. First, the collective narratives for each partner company showed that at the company level strategic practices were aligned with the key stakeholders’ fundamentally different views of the partnership relationship. This is not surprising as the key stakeholders in both companies were reticent about engaging with each other once the IJV was in place, suggesting that these individuals felt challenged by the prospect of confronting frustrations caused by their fundamentally different views of the IJV relationship. Second, a comparison of each company’s collective narrative suggested the two companies developed strategy practices to ameliorate the tensions caused by their different ways of doing business, rather than confronting these tensions. These practices then led to dissatisfaction with each other’s performance in the IJV and prompted a change in the shareholding structure. Third, sensemaking itself could be a strategic action when it occurred in situations where there was misalignment of values, business practices and habitus between the IJV partners. It was found that a sensemaking discrepancy (SMD) was embedded in the IJV relationship and disrupted collaboration, mutual learning, mutual communication, and knowledge sharing between the partner companies. In conclusion, this study produced two conceptual models conceptualising the link between sensemaking and SP as it played out in a Sino-NZ IJV. It contributes new insights about collaboration, sensemaking, and SP to the IJV, sensemaking and strategy literatures. At the heart of the contributions are two theoretical models that explain how sensemaking and SP combine to create participants’ sense of an IJV collaboration, answer the research questions, and address an important gap in these literatures. The research findings suggest that improving sensemaking ability should be considered as an important strategic management skill, and should be included in training agendas for managers who operate IJVs.