The Dynamics of Collective Leadership and Strategic Change in Pluralistic Organizations1 Jean-Louis Denis Département d'administration de la santé, Université de Montréal, C.P. 6192 Succursale Centre-Ville, Montréal, Canada H3C 3J7 Tel: (514)-343-6031 Fax: (514)-343-2448 firstname.lastname@example.org Lise Lamothe Département de management, Faculté des sciences de l'administration, Université Laval, Sainte-Foy, Québec, Canada G1K 7P4 Tel: (418)-656-2131 X5960 Fax: (418)-656-2624 email@example.com Ann Langley Département Stratégie des affaires Université du Québec à Montréal, C.P. 6192 Succursale Centre-Ville, Montréal, Canada, H3C 4R2 Tel: (514)-987-3000 X4862 Fax: (514)-987-0422 firstname.lastname@example.org June 2000 Final version
The authors are very grateful to the participating organizations for their collaboration in this research. They also thank research assistants Linda Cazale, Marc Prenevost, Marc Pineault, Mélodie Faucher, Mélanie Summerside, Michèle Saint-Pierre and Jean-Michel Viola for their help in data collection, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Fonds FCAR and Université Laval for their financial support. The comments of three anonymous reviewers and of special issue editor Dick Woodman were also helpful in developing the paper.
The Dynamics of Collective Leadership and Strategic Change in Pluralistic Organizations Abstract This paper draws on two sets of process case studies in the health care field to examine how strategic change can be managed in pluralistic organizations where power is diffuse and objectives are divergent. It is suggested that the creation of a collective leadership group in which members play distinct but tightly-knit and complementary roles is a critical factor in achieving substantive change. However, collective leadership is fragile. We identify three types and levels of "coupling" called strategic (between members of the leadership team), organizational (between leadership team members and their internal constituencies) and environmental (between the team and the organization's external environment) that need to be mobilized to permit change. We argue that since it is difficult to maintain coupling at all levels simultaneously, change tends to proceed by fits and starts, with sequential coupling and uncoupling over time at different levels. In fact, strategic change in pluralistic contexts is viewed as a succession of episodes in which leadership group members may promote change through their actions, but where these actions simultaneously alter the future form and viability of the leadership group because their legitimacy is constantly being re-evaluated by powerful constituencies. Our studies indicate that change is feasible in such contexts, but that it tends to be sporadic and unpredictable. However, the analysis also suggests that as the degree of complexity and pluralism increases and as slack resources become scarcer, the conditions necessary to protect change initiatives long enough for them to become irreversible are more and more difficult to establish.
This paper aims to contribute to the development of process theory on leadership and strategic change in pluralistic organizations. Our central research question is: "How can leaders achieve deliberate strategic change in organizations where strategic leadership roles are shared, objectives are divergent, and power is diffuse?" Such situations are becoming increasingly common as organizations in many industries enter into various forms of collaborative arrangements, as the workforce becomes increasingly diversified, as internal markets, matrices and networks penetrate organizational structures, and as knowledge workers play an increasingly important role in the economy (Løwendahl & Revang, 1998; Van de Ven, 1998). We tackle this research question using a replicated case study method (Yin, 1994; Eisenhardt, 1989;...