Leader Ambidexterity in Research Teams

Leader Ambidexterity in Research Teams

Montserrat Boronat-Navarro (Jaume I University, Spain) and María P. Mora-Crespo (Jaume I University, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3473-1.ch187
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Abstract

Technology and knowledge transfer between universities and industry requires researchers and research teams to address the tension between developing the abilities required by different types of activities, namely research and commercialization. The main unit at universities that performs the development of knowledge is the research team; therefore, the main researcher must be able to balance this tension to have success in both activities. This study builds on organizational ambidexterity literature to determine the antecedents at the individual level of the main researcher to successfully achieve both research and commercialization activities. We review the ambidexterity literature to identify these antecedents and illustrate our framework with two research teams at different Spanish universities that have achieved scientific- and commercial-oriented results.
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Introduction

Universities are increasingly developing an awareness about their so-called third mission, in which a scientific-economic paradigm is present (Chang et al., 2009). The institutions realize the importance of transferring knowledge to industry and society, with the possibility of exploiting the knowledge generated inside universities. The ability to combine conflicting demands that require different activities at universities, such as research publication and research commercialization, is an important challenge that must be addressed to effectively transfer knowledge and technology from universities to society.

Universities as organizations promote the transfer of knowledge and technologies to different industries, providing an adequate institutional framework and structure to researchers. We recognize the importance of this structure and the difficulty at the organizational level to cope with tension that requires research and entrepreneurial orientations, but we focus this study on the factors that have an influence at the micro-level of a leader of a research team. Because the main units at universities that develop knowledge are the research teams (Bayona-Sáez et al., 2002), in this study we analyse the ambidexterity of a leader of a research team. Research teams and specifically their main researchers must deal with dualities that arise if they want their research to become commercialized.

The ambidexterity concept shows the importance of coping with this tension, as studied from organization learning literature (e.g., March, 1991), management and strategic literature (Ghemawat and Ricarti Costa, 1993), and innovation studies (e.g., Jansen et al., 2006; Smith and Tushman, 2005). Ambos et al. (2008) interpret the concept in the context of universities as the ability to simultaneously produce knowledge-focused research or scientific contributions and property-focused research or commercial contributions. Chang et al. (2016) define individual research ambidexterity as “the ability by which academic scientists can simultaneously achieve research publication and research commercialization at the individual level”. We analyse this concept in the case of the main researcher of a research team, who acts as the leader of the team.

The aim of the present research is to determine the antecedents that make it possible for the main researchers to successfully achieve both research and commercialization activities. First, the concept of ambidexterity is presented and then translated to the university context. Next, we review the ambidexterity literature to propose the antecedents that must be studied at the level of an individual leader of a research team. Then, we present the methodology and illustrate our framework with an analysis of two research teams at different Spanish universities that have achieved academic as well as commercial results. Finally, we present our results and derive our conclusions.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Paradoxical Thinking: Being able to cope with contradictions, to think on situations with a whole and integrative perspective.

Structural Ambidexterity: Type of ambidexterity managed through two different units in the organization each one focused on exploration or on exploitation only.

Contextual Ambidexterity: Type of Ambidexterity obtained by the alignment of all the different elements of the organization towards specific tasks in order to foster exploration and exploitation at the same time.

Entrepreneurial Capability: The ability to identify opportunities and aligning the suitable resources and efforts to seize these opportunities.

Ambidexterity: Capability or ability to effectively combine exploration and exploitation activities.

Exploitation: Activities or actions oriented to develop the existing capabilities/objectives.

Exploration: Activities or actions oriented to develop new or innovative capabilities/objectives.

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