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The Effects of Workplace Spatial Configuration on Emergent Strategy Making

Research output: Contribution to conference - Without ISBN/ISSN Conference paperpeer-review

Publication date26/06/2017
Number of pages30
<mark>Original language</mark>English
EventEuropean Real Estate Society 24th Annual Conference, Delft, Netherlands, 28th June - 1st July, 2017 - Delft, Netherlands
Duration: 28/06/20171/07/2017


ConferenceEuropean Real Estate Society 24th Annual Conference, Delft, Netherlands, 28th June - 1st July, 2017


An organisations realised strategy forms in two distinct ways: through ‘deliberate’ strategy making where senior managers set objectives and develop plans using formal planning processes and ‘emergent’ strategy making where a pattern of action becomes evident over time - in an absence of intention about it. Emergent strategy is associated with innovative and adaptive capabilities and is observed to a greater extent in organisations competing in more volatile external environments. Strategy-as-Practice (SAP) understands strategy as a socially accomplished activity and its research has a focus on the day-to-day interactions of strategy makers, however, SAP research has been critiqued for bias towards social interactions that are deliberately strategic at the expense of work on emergent strategy making which is fundamentally defined as unconscious, undeclared, tacit and unspoken. By contrast, research in architecture has shown that spatial configuration has a powerful affect on unplanned social interaction.

This paper draws on these two disparate literatures to explore the possibility of a relationship between emergent strategy making and the spatial configuration of the workplace. Quantitative methods were used to explore the extent of this relationship: observation analysis was used in one case firm to gain a fine-grained understanding of social interactions in different spaces and in order to enable a rigorous assessment of organisational spatial configurations the technique of ‘Space Syntax’ was used. This enabled the analysis of the relationship between an organisational profile of spatial configuration and non-deliberately strategic interaction in a single, in-depth, case study and for establishing the spatial configurations of three other companies. These three cases enabled the understanding of how opportunities for emergent strategy making might vary across the four organisations based on their spatial configurations.

The results suggest a strong relationship exists between workplace spatial configuration and the opportunities for emergent strategy making in an organisation, which when compared across four organisations imply very different opportunities in each. The paper concludes by suggesting that emergent strategy needs to be thought of as a material, spatial phenomenon and not just a conceptual one and with the personal reflections of the author as a seasoned executive of thirty years on the potential relevance of this research to practice.