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  • 2019thomasphd

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How space affects emergent strategy: a study of the role physical space plays in the generation of social interactions in organisations

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2019
Number of pages288
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This thesis asks the research question: How does physical space influence emergent strategy? It is known from the strategy literature that emergent strategy is the unintended consequence of patterns of social interaction that vary with the internal contexts of organisations. It is also known from architectural literature that space has a powerful impact on the way people interact. Yet the impact of space on emergent strategy remains a gap in knowledge.
To address this gap, Space Syntax theory from architecture was used to analyse how spatial arrangements affected unplanned interactions in a single organisation and an immersive period of observations was used to understand how patterns of interaction affected emergent strategy as it occurred.
The findings showed that the patterns of interaction were complex and varied at individual, group and organisation levels and that these patterns affected the emergence of strategic matters of concern in the organisation studied. The complex profiles of interaction were explained by the concept of socio-spatial correspondence that describes the degree of overlap between an organisation’s spatial and social arrangements. A quantitative measure for correspondence was developed specifically as part of this research. A typology is proposed that describes how an organisation’s propensity for emergent strategy might vary with its socio-spatial structure based on the calculation of correspondence in four other organisations.
A discussion challenges whether managers really understand the impact of their socio-spatial structures on strategy emergence and questions some prevailing architectural practices. Contributions are suggested to the strategy-as-practice literature, the measure of correspondence is suggested as a methodological contribution to strategy and architectural literature and the socio-spatial perspective is suggested as having real-world consequences that contribute to architectural and management practice.