Social Brokerage, Psychology, and Innovation in Intra-organizational Networks

Hongzhi Chen, Purdue University


As an important organizational phenomenon, brokerage is common in any group of three or more. A recent meta-analysis shows that brokerage is one of the most influential network properties to individual innovativeness (Baer, Evans, Oldham, & Boasso, 2015). This dissertation investigates the impacts of social brokerage on the micro-foundation of corporate innovation, i.e., generating new projects and getting new things done. In addressing the social psychological foundations of brokerage (Tasselli, Kilduff, & Menges, 2015), this dissertation investigates the influential contexts around the broker and revisits the “human agency” issue in brokerage phenomena in the setting of corporate innovation. Chapter One provides an overview of this dissertation. In Chapter Two, I build up a contextualized theory of brokerage to examine the tensions inherent to brokerage phenomena by considering the micro-context and meso-context around brokers. With time-lagged field data, I found that maintaining membership of multiple dense cliques (i.e., Simmelian brokerage) impedes an innovator’s innovation initiatives (generating new projects). Further, this study shows how such undesirable impact could be alleviated by innovators’ capacity of present- centered attention and awareness (i.e., mindfulness). This paper extends research and theories on Simmelian brokerage by examining its impact in instrumental networks (e.g., innovation partners), while the limited available research on Simmelian brokerage focuses mostly on expressive networks, e.g., friendship (Tasselli & Kilduff, 2018). Further, this paper contributes to the theory and research on intra-organizational networks and innovation by explicitly addressing the phase of idea elaboration and development in the innovation processes (Perry-Smith&Mannucci, 2017). This paper also sheds light on the structural pattern of the “collaborative overload” issue (Cross, Rebele, & Grant, 2016), which refers to a ubiquitous organizational problem that the distribution of collaborative work is highly lopsided at workplace, exhausting employees and dampening productivity. In Chapter Three, I revisit the “human agency” issue in brokerage phenomena with a social psychological perspective. Drawing on the processual view of brokerage (Obstfeld, Borgatti, & Davis, 2014), I re-conceptualize brokerage strategic orientation as behavioral action and explore its antecedents and outcomes. I found that all three types of brokerage actions (i.e., tertius iungens, tertius gaudens, conduit) are positively associated with network opportunity (i.e., structural holes), and these brokerage actions are dissimilarly associated with time pressure at work. Further, I found that tertius iungens action is positively related to subsequent performance (i.e., getting new things done) yet with a decreasing return while conduit brokerage is negatively related to performance. Interestingly, the self-interested tertius gaudens action has no significant effect on performance. This study extends the emerging research on brokerage as a social process by showing how the behavioral perspective of brokerage can enrich our understanding on social brokerage phenomena. Taken together, this dissertation contributes to the research and theories on brokerage and innovation in intra-organizational networks. Further, this dissertation provides unique insights into the “collaborative overload” issue pervading the workplace, which is likely to undermine the micro-foundation of corporate innovation. Overall, this dissertation represents an important endeavor to reframe and reformulate core organizational issues and problems with contextualized and phenomenon-driven research (Staw, 2016).




Dunford, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Business administration|Management|Organizational behavior

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