- Previous : significant / significant
- Commitment: significant / significant
- Partner’s reputation: not significant / significant
- Definition of objectives: significant / not significant
- Communication: not significant / significant
- Conflict: Significant / not significant
- Organizational design: not significant / not significant
- Geographical proximity: not significant / not significant
Therefore, the preferred structure for an alliance will depend on the nature of the knowledge to be acquired, whereas the outcome will be determined largely by a partner’s ability to learn, which is a function of skills and culture. Tactical alliances are most appropriate to obtain migratory or explicit knowledge, but more strategic relationships are necessary to acquire embedded or tacit knowledge. Alliances for explicit knowledge focus on trades in designs, technologies or products, but by the very nature of such knowledge this provides only temporary advantages because of its ease of codification and movement: Alliances for embedded knowledge present a more subtle management challenge. This involves the transfer of skills and capabilities rather than discrete packages of know–how. This requires personnel to have direct, intimate and extensive exposure to the staff.
However, the absorptive capacity of an organization is not a constant, and depends on the fit of the partner’s knowledge base, organizational structures and processes such as the degree of management formalization and centralization of decision making and research. Studies suggest that knowledge creation in an alliance is more likely to occur where there is a clear intent and specific goals exist, but conversely individual autonomy within a joint project is associated with a reduction in knowledge creation. One of the most significant factors influencing knowledge creation and learning in alliances is the use of formal environmental scanning and this effect increases with the complexity of projects. There appear to be two reasons for the importance of scanning in such alliances, first, the need to identify relevant knowledge in the environment and second to ensure that the developments continue to be relevant to the changing environment.
The conversion of tacit to explicit knowledge is a critical mechanism underlying the link between individual and organizational learning. Through a process of dialogue, discussion experience sharing and observation, individual knowledge is amplified at the group and organizational levels. This creates an expanding community of interaction or knowledge network which crosses intra organizational levels and boundaries. These knowledge networks are a means to accumulate knowledge from outside the organization share it widely within the organization and store it for future use. Therefore, the interaction of groups with different cultures whether within or beyond the boundaries of the organization is a potential source of learning and innovation.
Organizational structure and culture will determine absorptive capacity in inter organizational learning. Culture is a difficult concept to grasp and measure, but it helps to distinguish between national, organizational, functional and group cultures. Difference in national culture has received a great deal of attention in studies of cross border alliances and acquisitions and the consensus is that national differences do exist and that these affect both the intent and ability to learn. In general, British and American firms focus more on the legal and financial aspects of alliances but rarely have either the intent or ability to learn through alliances. In contrast, French, German, and Japanese firms are more likely to exploit opportunities for learning. The issue of national stereotypes aside, there may be structural reasons of these differences in the propensity to learn.
For example, Japanese firms have good historical reasons for exploiting alliances as opportunities for learning. Initially Western firms typically Japan through alliances in which they provided technology in return for access to Japanese sales and distribution channels. This exchange of technology for market access appeared to offer value to both sides.
Therefore collaboration has shifted from relatively simple and well-defined licensing agreements or joint ventures, to more complex and informal relationships which are much more difficult to manage.
Most recently, firms from the USA and Europe have begun to use alliances for operational learning. Operational learning provides close exposure to what competitors are doing in Japan and how they are doing it. For example, to learn how Japanese partners manage their production facilities, supplier base or product development process. This is not possible from a distance, and requires close alliances with potential competitors. However, fewer firms in the West have exploited fully the potential of alliances for learning that is the acquisition of new technological and market competencies.
In contrast, many American and British firms find it difficult to learn through alliances. This appears to be because firms focus on financial control and short term financial benefits, rather than the long term potential for learning. For example, firms will attempt to minimize the number and quality of people they contribute to a Japanese joint venture, and the time committed. As a result, little learning takes place and little or no corporate memory is built up.