Review of Managerial Science

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 261–284 | Cite as

Standardized individuality versus individualized standardization: the role of the context in structurally ambidextrous organizations

  • Wolfgang H. GüttelEmail author
  • Stefan W. Konlechner
  • Julia K. Trede
Original Paper


Sustaining success requires the integration of the contradicting aims of short-term efficiency and long-term innovation. Coupling exploitation and exploration is therefore a major challenge for organizations. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) suffer particularly from resource constraints for nurturing both learning modes concurrently. In this paper, we draw on empirical case-study evidence of a globally operating SME to show how managing the interplay of organizational structure and context enables firms to combine exploration and exploitation for achieving ambidexterity. Our findings show that creating ambidexterity requires firms to manage different tensions on multiple levels. In particular, we distinguish between the learning dimension and the flexibility dimension of ambidexterity. The learning dimension refers to balancing incremental and radical innovations, while the flexibility dimension refers to balancing alignment and adaptability in terms of a firm’s organizational design. Both dimensions have to be balanced simultaneously to create organizational ambidexterity. We show how the creation of a common frame of reference enables the behavioral integration of exploration and exploitation and the formation of knowledge bridges at multiple levels of the organization in a structurally ambidextrous firm. Further, our findings suggest that dealing with tensions between incremental/radical innovation and adaptability/alignment refers to managing a “second-order”-balance between exploration and exploitation.


Ambidexterity Exploration Exploitation Alignment Adaptability Organizational learning 

JEL Classification

M14 O31 O32 



The helpful comments of Catherine Gundolf and two anonymous reviewers are gratefully acknowledged. Financial support was graciously provided by funds of the Oesterreichische Nationalbank (Anniversary Fund, project number: 13798).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wolfgang H. Güttel
    • 1
    Email author
  • Stefan W. Konlechner
    • 1
  • Julia K. Trede
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Human Resource and Change ManagementJohannes Kepler-University LinzLinzAustria
  2. 2.Institut für Marketing und MedienUniversity HamburgHamburgGermany

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