Putting strategy into practice : top management teams in action in three UK universities : uncovering the paradox of effectiveness and inertia
An investigation into top management team action in the practice of strategy was conducted within three UK universities. This study examined strategic practices from a top team perspective in each institution over a seven year period. The aim was to understand the processes by which top teams put strategy into practice within the context of organisational structures that may both constrain and enable strategic action. A theory of practice was developed with which to guide the investigation. This theory, and interrogation of a diverse body of organisation studies and strategic management literature indicated a longitudinal, processual research design as appropriate, accessing rich contextual data over embedded levels of analysis. To this end, 49 interviews, 51 meetings observations, shadowing of key participants, and extensive documentary and archival searches were conducted. Analysis of such data led to the identification of three levels of analysis which are pertinent to an understanding of top management team engagement in strategy as practice. First, the top team process of strategic thinking and acting. Secondly, the structuring characteristics of organisational context. Thirdly, the strategy processes which form the interplay between top team actors and organisational context in the practice of strategy. These levels of analysis were arranged in an explanatory framework. This framework shows how top management teams engage in strategy as practice through the use of situated and distributed practices which mediate between their behaviour, the organisational contexts in which they act, and the strategic activities which are pursued. To better model the dynamic nature of these relationships, strategy as practice was conceptualised as occurring within an activity system. The activity system comprised three domains, top team actors, organisational structures, and strategic activity, mediated by practices which are situated and distributed across the domains. This research is underpinned by the theoretical approaches of structuration and social becoming, which interpellate the tendency to both recursiveness and transformation in social order. These tendencies are conceptualised as the capacity for continuity and change in the process of putting strategy into practice. The activity system model developed was used to explain how practices are implicated in the mediation of continuity and change.