Collecting data on TMTs’ organizational design: good practices from the StiMa project


Studying how Top Management Teams (TMTs) organize their managerial labor and decision-making processes is a relevant research avenue in light of the prominence of TMTs within modern firms. However, data on TMTs’ organizational design are usually not available from secondary sources and must instead be collected through surveys given to top executives. To help researchers in this difficult endeavor, the present paper offers a set of good practices for designing and implementing surveys on TMTs’ organizational design. To this end, we use as a basis the first-hand experience that we gained by working on the StiMa project, a large-scale data collection effort concerning the TMTs of a representative sample of Italian firms. We describe in detail all of the steps that we followed in preparing and administering the survey and in setting up and executing the additional data collection from secondary sources, which integrates survey data. We are confident that the lessons we learned from the StiMa project will help scholars in gathering better data on TMTs’ organizational design, thus advancing academics’ and practitioners’ conversations on the topic.

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  1. 1.

  2. 2.

  3. 3.

  4. 4.

  5. 5.

    The research group is formed by Emilio Bartezzaghi, Raffaella Cagliano, Massimo G. Colombo, Annachiara Longoni, Cristina Rossi-Lamastra, and Paola Rovelli. The group also included Gianluca Spina, deceased in February 2015.

  6. 6.

    StiMa is the acronym for “Stili Manageriali”, i.e., “management styles” in Italian.

  7. 7.

    Following the PMS classification, the researchers considered the following NACE codes: science based (NACE codes 21, 26), supplier dominated (13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 31, 32), scale intensive (10, 11, 12, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 29, 30), specialized suppliers (27, 28, 33), knowledge intensive business services (62, 63, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 90, 91), supplier dominated services (47, 55, 56, 68, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 85, 86, 87, 88, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96), physical networks services (35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 45, 46, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53), and information networks services (58, 59, 60, 61, 64, 65, 66).

  8. 8.

    More specifically, the researchers of the StiMa project asked the Research Department of the Milan Chamber of Commerce to provide them the list of all the Italian firms in the PMS industries with at least 20 employees, thus obtaining a list of 58,947 firms. Then, they excluded firms whose legal status does not force them to fill the balance sheet.

  9. 9.

    The legal status of firms included in the population are: Società a Responsabilità Limitata, Società per Azioni, Società a Responsabilità Limitata con Unico Socio, Società Cooperativa, Società per Azioni con Unico Socio, Società Cooperativa a Responsabilità Limitata, Società Consortile a Responsabilità Limitata, Società Consortile per Azioni, Piccola Società Cooperativa a Responsabilità Limitata, Società a Responsabilità Limitata a Capitale Ridotto, Società a Responsabilità Limitata Semplificata, Società Consortile Cooperativa a Responsabilità Limitata.

  10. 10.

    In total, 19 master of science students worked on the StiMa project, staffed to the different activities that compose the whole data gathering process.

  11. 11. Aida is a database that contains information and balance sheets of all the Italian firms. It is provided by Bureau van Dijk (BvD) and it is the Italian version of Orbis database (

  12. 12. InsideView is a database containing information about firms all over the world (e.g., firms’ contact information, name and surname of some of their top executives).

  13. 13. Lexis Nexis is a database that contains news, legal and company information (e.g., location, size, etc.) about firms all over the world.

  14. 14.

    For instance, if the email address of the manager or employee was, researchers created an email address for the CEO with her/his name dot surname and the same domain.

  15. 15.

    It is worth mentioning that CEOs could alternatively fill the .doc version of the questionnaire attached to the invitation email and return it via email, mail or fax. 76 CEOs sent back the .doc file via email, only one via mail, and no one used fax. Afterwards, the team of student assistants inserted on SurveyMonkey all the .doc questionnaires to make it possible to download simultaneously all the data (see Sect. 4).

  16. 16.

    These findings still hold when considering factors resulting from a Principal Component Analysis applied to constructs’ items; the only difference is that, in this case, there are also differences in the distribution of joint decision making. Results are available from the authors upon request.

  17. 17.

    To find biographies on LinkedIn, StiMa researchers searched for the top executive’s name and surname. Then, they checked to have found the right person by looking at the information provided on her/his work experience.

  18. 18.

  19. 19.


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The authors wish to thank Professors Emilio Bartezzaghi, Raffaella Cagliano, Massimo G. Colombo, Annachiara Longoni for their work on the StiMa project. Moreover, they acknowledged the invaluable contribution and energy that our dear colleague, Professor Gianluca Spina, provided to the project. Professor Spina passed away in February 2015, but his vision still inspires our work. Master students Gabriele Alboni, Giulia Arsie, Giulia Bazzerla, Silvia Bevilacqua, Martina Bonanomi, Alberto Bonvini, Federico Brambilla, Giorgio Corallo, Camilla Curnis, Alessandro Gibellini, Cristina Krobot, Matteo Mariani, Niccolò Martellini, Irene Mohammadi Masoudi, Chiara Passoni, Nicolò Perugini, Giuditta Piacenti, Stefania Siro, and Angela Vitale provided very good research assistantship. All the mistakes rely solely upon the authors.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Paola Rovelli.


Appendix 1

See Table 9.

Table 9 Description of the constructs included in the questionnaire

Appendix 2

The 35 questions of the StiMa questionnaire are grouped in seven sections with different units of analysis. Specifically, section 1 (personal information) and section 6 (CEO’s time management) focus on the individual level of the CEO, while sections 2 (organizational structure), 3 (decision-making process), 4 (coordination mechanisms), 5 (human resource management), and 7 (general information) relate to the firm and TMT level. In addition, the researchers of the StiMa project also asked for contact information (e.g., name, surname, and email address) of five TMT members. In the case of the Chief Human Resources Officer, they used this information to check CEOs’ responses reliability (see Sect. 4.5). Table 10 reports the seven sections of the questionnaire, the number of questions included in each section, their unit of analysis and the references to the sources of these questions. In the following the main questions regarding organizational design elements used in the StiMa questionnaire are reported (the complete version of the StiMa questionnaire is available from the authors upon request). When applicable, sources of the questions are indicated in brackets.

Table 10 Structure of the questionnaire

Q5. Indicate which organizational structure best describes your firm. Choose one of the following alternatives:

  • Functional (organizational units at the first hierarchical level are functional department, i.e., manufacturing department, R&D department, sales department, marketing department),

  • Divisional (organizational units at the first hierarchical level are business units/divisions, i.e., geographical business units, product-market business units),

  • Hybrid, in part functional and in part divisional organizational units,

  • Matrix: each person/organizational unit responds to more than one hierarchical manager, depending on the type of activity or decision.

Q6. Indicate the largest number of hierarchical levels between the CEO and the last level with budget or expense responsibility (Guadalupe and Wulf 2010).

Q7. Indicate the number of managers who report directly to the CEO. Note: in the following, we will refer to them as the first lines (Guadalupe and Wulf 2010).

Q8. Indicate which of the following roles are present in the firm. For each role, indicate whether it belongs to the first line. Further, indicate whether the manager who holds the role: (1) is a member of the top management team (TMT) and since which year she belongs to it and (2) is a member of the family that owns the firm.

Roles (adapted from Rajan and Wulf 2006): General Manager; Chief Financial Officer; Chief Administrative Officer; Chief Strategy and Business Development Officer; Chief Technology/R&D Officer; Chief Marketing Officer; Chief Sales Officer; Chief Purchasing Officer; Chief Supply Chain Officer; Chief Production Officer; Chief Human Resource Officer; Chief Legal and Regulation Officer; Chief Information Officer; Chief Sustainability (Environmental, Corporate Social Responsibility) Officer.

Q9. Formal coordination (Foss et al. 2013).

Indicate how often your firm uses the following organizational mechanisms (1 = never; 7 = very often):

  • Formal committees involving different TMT members,

  • Temporary cross-functional work groups involving TMT members,

  • Coordination roles between two or more Functional Departments or Divisions.

Q10. Strategic decision comprehensiveness (Souitaris and Maestro 2010).

Facing relevant and not ordinary opportunities and threats, indicate how often TMT members (1 = very rarely; 5 = always):

  • Develop several possible alternative solutions,

  • Consider several drivers and points of view before taking decision,

  • Deeply analyze the different reasons of the threats or opportunities,

  • Evaluate the action plan from various points of views,

  • Explore many different reactions to the opportunity or the threat.

Q11. Allocation of decision authority (adapted from Colombo and Delmastro 2008).

Indicate the lowest hierarchical level that typically has the authority to make the following decisions. Please use the following scale: 1 = the decision is made by the CEO’s corporate superior (i.e., the board of directors or the CEO of parent company); 2 = the CEO makes the decision; 3 = the first line makes the decision, but formal authorization by the CEO is always required; 4 = the first line makes the decision autonomously (i.e., no formal authorization is needed); 5 = the middle manager (i.e., plant manager, regional manager, BU directors) makes the decision, formal authorization by her/his superior is eventually required.

  • Developing innovative products and services,

  • Introducing significant changes in products and services,

  • Developing sustainable products (environmentally friendly or socially oriented),

  • Introducing major changes in marketing activities,

  • Entry or exit decisions from markets/product lines,

  • Major price decisions,

  • Radical changes in organizational processes and organizational procedures,

  • Significant changes in the organizational structure,

  • Strategic alliances/partnership with other firms or organizations (acquisitions and joint venture are not included),

  • Major business investments (e.g., acquisitions, joint ventures, creation of new firms, opening new plants, creation of new infrastructures),

  • Hiring, firing, promotions, salaries and incentives for middle management,

  • Labor disputes with unions,

  • (Re)design of management control systems (e.g., planning, budgeting, controlling),

  • Main financing decisions (e.g., choice of capital providers, relations with the banking system),

  • Strategic decisions about purchases (e.g., major supplier selection),

  • Strategic decisions about production insourcing/outsourcing,

  • Expansion of production capability, expansion and modernization of production equipment and plants,

  • Significant investments in information and communication systems,

  • Definition of the sustainability strategy for the improvement of the work conditions (e.g., employee empowerment, health and safety programs, training, diversity and equal opportunities management),

  • Definition of the sustainability strategy for the civil society development (e.g., local community development, anti-corruption practices),

  • Definition and implementation of environmental initiatives (e.g., reduction of consumption or recycling of raw materials, energy and water, reduction of emissions and wastes).

Q12. Does a maximum budget exist for expenses/investments that allows the CEO to take decisions autonomously? If yes, what is the amount of this budget? (Adapted from Bloom et al. 2012).

Q13. Procedural rationality (adapted from Dean and Sharfman 1996) and process rationality (Clark and Maggitti 2012).

Referring to the decision making process within the TMT, evaluate the following sentences.

  • The TMT invests time and resources to search all relevant information before making decisions (1 = limited investment; 7 = intensive investment),

  • The TMT invests time and resources to carefully analyze all the relevant information (1 = limited investment; 7 = intensive investment),

  • The TMT uses sophisticated techniques of quantitative analysis in making decisions (1 = never; 7 = always),

  • Does the TMT commonly make decisions following primarily an analytical approach or an intuitive approach? (1 = primarily analytical; 7 = primarily intuitive),

  • Does the communication between the TMT members occur primarily in writing or in verbal form? (1 = primarily in written form; 7 = primarily in verbal form),

  • Are tools such as meeting agendas and minutes important elements of TMT decision making? (1 = not very important; 7 = very important).

Q14. Strategic decision speed (Souitaris and Maestro 2010).

Indicate whether you agree with each of the following sentences (1 = strongly disagree; 5 = strongly agree). The members of the TMT:

  • Believe that, when making strategic decisions, rapidity is very important,

  • In making strategic decisions, prefer and tend to use all the time required for an accurate evaluation,

  • Believe that rapidity is very important when defining strategies.

Q15. CEO's leadership (adapted from Gronn 2002).

Indicate how often you meet the members of the TMT to (1 = very rarely; 7 = always):

  • Discuss the problems of the firm,

  • Help them to solve the problems of the firm,

  • Discuss the goals of the firm,

  • Discuss the outcomes of the firm.

Q16. CEO's leadership (adapted from Gronn 2002).

Indicate whether you agree with each of the following sentences (1 = strongly disagree; 5 = strongly agree).

  • Both TMT members and I are able to clearly describe the vision of the firm,

  • In our firm, it is expected that all organizational units reach high levels of result,

  • When implementing changes, both TMT members and I refer to a set of shared values,

  • I created an organizational structure that encourages TMT members to take part in the process improvement,

  • Informal leaders play an important role for change effectiveness.

Q17. Tacit coordination and ongoing communication (adapted from Srikanth and Puranam 2011).

Indicate how much effort your firm devotes to the following actions to facilitate the interaction between the TMT members (1 = no effort; 7 = very high effort).

  • To organize team building activities that allow members of the TMT to develop a common vision and mutual understanding (e.g., participation in ad-hoc social events, such as dinners and aperitifs),

  • To help TMT members to understand the decisions of the other TMT members,

  • To organize training initiatives for members of the TMT on remote collaboration tools (e.g., Google Docs, Dropbox, Zoho, social media),

  • To encourage meetings among TMT members to understand how to work better together,

  • To encourage the sharing of a common language among TMT members,

  • To promote the exchange and sharing of working experiences among TMT members,

  • To develop/adopt a dedicated communication network (e.g., a corporate intranet),

  • To adopt electronic tools for remote collaboration among TMT members (e.g., Google Docs, Dropbox, Zoho, social media),

  • To use electronic tools for remote communication between members of the TMT (e.g., instant messaging, Skype, Lync, Webex).

Q18. Trust (adapted from Simons and Peterson 2000) and collaborative behavior (adapted from Simsek et al. 2005).

Assess how frequently (1 = very rarely; 7 = always) TMT members:

  • Expect transparency from the other TMT members,

  • Help each other when the workload is particularly high,

  • Show moral integrity,

  • Have confidence in the skills of the other TMT members,

  • Help each other to meet deadlines,

  • Rely on the other TMT members to meet commitments,

  • Know they can trust the other TMT members.

Q19. Information exchange (adapted from Simsek et al. 2005).

Consider when the TMT has taken important decisions for the future of the firm in the last 2 years and assess (1 = poor; 5 = high):

  • The creativity of the solutions proposed by TMT members,

  • The quality of the solutions proposed by TMT members,

  • The high number of ideas exchanged between TMT members.

Q20. Joint decision making (adapted from Simsek et al. 2005) and political behavior (adapted from Dean and Sharfman 1996).

Evaluate how frequently (1 = very rarely; 7 = always):

  • TMT members talk to each other about the impact of their work on that of the other TMT members,

  • The decisions taken by the TMT are the result of the exercise of authority among TMT members,

  • TMT members usually talk about what they expect from other TMT members,

  • The decisions taken by the TMT are the result of the negotiation between TMT members,

  • TMT members explicit their preferences in decisions to other TMT members,

  • TMT members have a clear understanding of the common problems,

  • TMT members have a clear understanding of the needs of other TMT members,

  • The decisions made by the TMT are the result of the ability of TMT members to influence other TMT members,

  • TMT members are geared toward their personal goals rather than to those of the organization.

Q21. Referring to the annual compensation package of the CEO and TMT members, on average, what portion of the salary has been represented by variable compensations in the past 3 years (including variable bonuses according to pre-established targets, stock options, profit sharing, etc.)? 0; 0–10; 10–20; 20–30; 30–50; more than 50%.

Q22. Which of the following statements best describes the approach of your firm in filling vacancies in the first lines? (Adapted from WERS 2011).

  • Internal employees are the typical source, no external recruitment, except for rare exceptions,

  • Ceteris paribus, internal employees have priority over external candidates,

  • The internal and external candidates are treated equally,

  • Ceteris paribus, external candidates are preferred compared to internal employees,

  • External candidates are the typical source, no internal recruitment, except for rare exceptions.

Q23. Considering a typical working week and made 100 the total time at your disposal, indicate in percentage terms how much time you spend on average (adapted from Bandiera et al. 2012):

  • With the only members of the TMT,

  • With TMT members together with first lines and/or mid-level managers and/or with other employees,

  • With people inside the firm and non-members of the TMT (e.g., first line managers not included in the TMT, middle managers, other staff),

  • With people outside your firm (e.g., customers, suppliers, consultants),

  • Working alone,

  • In other activities, please specify.

Q24. Made 100 the total time you spend with people inside your firm (including TMT members), allocate in percentage terms the average time spent per week in group meetings and bilateral meetings (adapted from Bandiera et al. 2012).

Q25. Made 100 the total time you spend with people outside your firm, allocate in percentage terms the average time spent per week in meetings with (adapted from Bandiera et al. 2012):

  • External consultants,

  • Staff of other firms (e.g., customers, suppliers, competitors),

  • Journalists and/or conferences and other public relations events,

  • Labor unions,

  • Staff of government agencies or regulators,

  • Shareholders and/or ownership,

  • Lenders (e.g., banks, venture capitalists),

  • Other entities external to the firm.

Q26. Indicate how frequently the meetings with people outside your firm are about the following activities (1 = very rarely; 7 = always) (adapted from Bandiera et al. 2012):

  • Negotiate and close deals,

  • Communicate the image and mission of your firm,

  • Explore business opportunities.

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Rovelli, P., Rossi-Lamastra, C. Collecting data on TMTs’ organizational design: good practices from the StiMa project. Econ Polit Ind 45, 175–213 (2018).

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  • Survey research design
  • Organizational design
  • Top management teams
  • Chief Executive Officers
  • TMT members

JEL Classification

  • C83–Survey Methods, Sampling Methods
  • L2–Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior