Managing Strategic Contradictions: A Top Management Team Model for Simultaneously Exploring and Exploiting

  • Wendy K. Smith
  • Michael L. Tushman


Sustained organisational performance depends on top management teams effectively exploring and exploiting. These strategic agendas are, however, associated with contradictory organisational architectures. Using the literature on paradox, contradictions and conflict, we develop a model of managing strategic contradictions that is associated with paradoxical cognition—senior leaders and/or their teams a) articulating a paradoxical frame, b) differentiating between the strategy and architecture for the existing product and those for innovation, and c) integrating between those strategies and architectures. We further argue that the locus of paradox in top management teams resides either with the senior leader or with the entire team. We identify a set of top management team conditions that facilitate a team’s ability to engage in paradoxical cognitive processes.


Strategic Management Journal Task Interdependence Exploratory Innovation Exploitative Innovation Strategic Agenda 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adner, R. and Helfat, C. (2002) Corporate effects and dynamic managerial capabilities. Strategic Management Journal, 24 (10): 1011–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aldrich, H. (1999) Organizations Evolving. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  3. Amabile, T.M. (1996) Creativity in Context. Boulder, Co: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  4. Ancona, D.G. and Nadler, D.A. (1989) Top hats and executive tales: Designing the senior team. Sloan Management Review, 31 (1): 19–28.Google Scholar
  5. Bantel, K.A. and Jackson, S. E. (1989) Top management and innovations in banking: Does the composition of the top team make a difference. Strategic Management Journal, 10: 107–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barnard, C. (1968) The Functions of the Executive (2nd edition). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bunderson, J.S. (2003) Team member functional background and involvement in management teams: Direct effects and the moderating role of power centralization. Academic Management Journal, 46 (4): 458–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bunderson, J.S. and Sutcliffe, K.M. (2002) Why some teams emphasize learning more than others: Evidence from business unit management teams. In H. Sondak (ed.), Toward Phenomenology of Groups and Group Membership (Vol. 4, pp. 49–84). Oxford: Elsevier Science.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bunderson, J.S. and Sutcliffe, K.M. (2003) Management team learning orientation and business unit performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88 (3): 552–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cameron, K. and Quinn, R. (1988) Organizational paradox and transformation. In R. Quinn and K. Cameron (eds), Paradox and Transformation (pp. 1–18). Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.Google Scholar
  11. Chandler, A.D. (1962) Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the Industrial Enterprise. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  12. Collins, J. and Porras, J. (1997) Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. New York: Harper Business.Google Scholar
  13. Edmondson, A., Roberto, M.A. and Watkins, M.D. (2003) A dynamic model of top management team effectiveness: Managing unstructured task streams. Leadership Quarterly, 14 (3): 297–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Eisenhardt, K.M. and Zbaracki, MJ. (1992) Strategic decision making. Strategic Management Journal, 13: 17–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Festinger, L. (1957) A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Evanston, IL: Row Peterson.Google Scholar
  16. Finkelstein, S. and Hambrick, D. (1996) Strategic Leadership: Top Executives and Their Effects on Organizations. Minneapolis/St. Paul: West Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  17. Flynn, F. and Chatman, J. (2001) Strong cultures and innovation: Oxymoron and opportunity? In C. Cooper, S. Cartwright and C. Earley (eds), International Handbook of Organizational Culture and Climate (pp. 263–87). Chichester: J. Wiley.Google Scholar
  18. Ford, J. and Backoff, R. (1988) Organizational change in and out of dualities and paradox. In R. Quinn and K. Cameron (eds), Paradox and Transformation (pp. 81–121). Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  19. Frankel, V. (1960) Paradoxical intention. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 14.Google Scholar
  20. Gavetti, G. and Levinthal, D. (2000) Looking forward and looking backward: Cognitive and experiential search. Adminstrative Science Quarterly, 45: 113–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hackman, J.R. (2002) Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
  22. Hambrick, D. (1994) Top management groups: A conceptual integration and reconsideration of the ‘team’ label. In B.M. Staw and L. Cummings (eds), Research in Organizational Behavior (pp. 171–214). Greenwich: JAI Press.Google Scholar
  23. He, Z.-L. and Wong, P.-K. (2004) Exploration vs. exploitation: An empirical test of the ambidexterity hypothesis. Organization Science, 15 (4): 481–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Heider, F. (1958) The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations. New York: Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Henderson, R. and Clark, K. (1991) Architectural innovation: The reconfiguration of existing product technologies and the failure of established firms. Adminstrative Science Quarterly, 35: 9–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jackson, S.E. and Dutton, J.E. (1988) Discerning threats and opportunities. Administrative Science Quarterly, 33: 370–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kahneman, D. and Tversky, A. (1979) Prospect theory: An analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica, 47: 263–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kaplan, S. (2003) Framing contests: Micromechanisms of firm responses to technical change. Working Paper. Boston, MA: MIT Sloan School of Management.Google Scholar
  29. Kelley, H.H. (1971) Attribution in Social Interaction. Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press.Google Scholar
  30. Langer, E. (1989) Mindfulness. Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  31. Latham, G.P. and Locke, E.A. (eds) (1995) Goal Setting: A Motivational Technique That Works (2nd edition). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  32. Leonard-Barton (1992) Core capabilities and core rigidities: A paradox in managing new product development. Strategic Management Journal, 13: 111–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lewis, M. (2000) Exploring paradox: Toward a more comprehensive guide. Academic Management Review, 25 (4): 760–76.Google Scholar
  34. Linehan, M.M. (1993) Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorders. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  35. March, J. (1991) Exploration and exploitation in organizational learning. Organization Science, 2: 71–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Miles, R.E. and Snow, C.C. (1978) Organizational Strategy, Structure and Process. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  37. Murnighan, J.K. and Conlon, D. (1991) The dynamics of intense work groups: A study of British string quartets. Adminstrative Science Quarterly, 36: 165–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Nadler, D. and Tushman, M. (1992) Designing organizations that have good fit. In D. Nadler (ed.), Organizational Architecture. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  39. Perlow, L., Gittell, J.H. and Katz, N. (2004) Conceptualizing patterns of work group interactions. Organization Science, 15 (5): 520–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Poole, M.S. and Van de Ven, A. (1989) Using paradox to build management and organizational theory. Academic Management Review, 14: 562–78.Google Scholar
  41. Rivkin, J.W. and Siggelkow, N. (2003) Balancing search and stability: Interdependencies among elements of organizational design. Management Science, 49: 290–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Romanelli, E. and Tushman, M.L. (1994) Organizational transformation as punctuated equilibrium: An empirical test. Academic Management Journal, 37 (5): 1141–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Rothenberg, A. (1979) The Emerging Goddess. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  44. Sherif, M. (1971) Superordinate goals in the reduction of intergroup conflict. In B.L. Hinton and H.J. Reits (eds), Groups and Organizations. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  45. Smith, K. and Berg, D. (1987) Paradoxes of Group Life. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.Google Scholar
  46. Steiner, I. (1972) Group Processes and Productivity. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  47. Suedfeld, P., Tetlock, P. and Streufert, S. (1992) Conceptual/integrative complexity. In C. Smith, J. Atkinson, D. McClelland and J. Verof (eds), Motivation and Personality: Handbook of Thematic Content Analysis (pp. 393–400). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sull, D. (1999) The dynamics of standing still: Firestone tire and rubber and the radial revolution. Business History Review, 73: 430–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Sull, D., Tedlow, R. and Rosenbloom, R. (1997) Managerial commitments and technology change in the US tire industry. Business History Review, 73: 430–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Thompson, J. (1967) Organizations in Action: Social Science Bases of Administrative Theory. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  51. Tripsas, M. and Gavetti, G. (2000) Capabilities, cognition and inertia: Evidence from digital imaging. Strategic Management Journal, 18 (Summer): 119–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Tushman, M.L. and O’Reilly, C.A.I. (1996) Ambidextrous organizations: Managing evolutionary and revolutionary change. California Management Review, 38 (4): 8–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tushman, M. and O’Reilly, C.A. (1997) Winning through Innovation. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
  54. Tushman, M. and Romanelli, E. (1985) Organizational evolution: A metamorphosis model of convergence and reorientation. In B.M. Staw and L. Cummings (eds), Research in Organizational Behavior (pp. 171–222). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.Google Scholar
  55. Tushman, M. and Smith, W.K. (2002) Organizational technology. In J. Baum (ed.), Companion to Organizations (pp. 386–414). Maiden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  56. Van de Ven, A., Poley, D., Garud, R. and Venkataraman, S. (1999) The Innovation Journey. New York: Oxford Press.Google Scholar
  57. Virany, B., Tushman, M. and Romanelli, E. (1992) Executive succession and organizational outcomes in turbulent environments. Organization Science, 3 (1): 72–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Wageman, R. (2001) How leaders foster self managing team effectiveness: Design choices versus hands-on coaching. Organization Science, 12 (5): 559–77.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Wendy K. Smith and Michael L. Tushman 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wendy K. Smith
  • Michael L. Tushman

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations