Learning in Distributed Organisations:How Subsidiary Middle Managers Do (Not) Create Global Solutions

Esther Tippmann, Dublin Institute of Technology
Pamela Sharkey Scott, Dublin Institute of Technology
Vincent Mangematin, Grenoble Ecole de Management

Document Type Conference Paper

Tippmann, Sharkey-Scott, Mangematin (2010), Learning in Distributed Organizations: How Subsidiary Middle Managers Do (not) Create Global Solutions, Paper presented at Strategic Management Society Annual Conference, Rome, Italy – Sep 2010. Finalist for Best Practice Implications Award.


Research on capability development within distributed organizations has increasingly recognized the role of subsidiaries in generating organizational learning. Yet little is known how subsidiary middle managers contribute towards these learning processes. This qualitative study uses an activity perspective to investigate subsidiary middle managers’ actions when searching for a solution to non-routine problems that occurred within their focal subsidiary and to examine the outcomes of that search. Based on a data set of 23 solution finding processes we find that the middle managers’ ex ante framing of the non-routine problem either as local or global influences their solution finding approach, leading to knowledge searching activities that ‘negotiate distance’ or ‘trap in local rigidities’. Our central contribution is a framework that describes subsidiary middle managers’ different roles in MNC learning processes, discussing how their activities can enhance or impede integrated learning. The implications for the replication and MNC capability literature as well as management practice are discussed.