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Interfirm Problem Representation: Developing Shared Understanding within Inter-Organizational Networks

Ogundipe, S. and Peters, L. D. and Tóth, Z. (2022) 'Interfirm Problem Representation: Developing Shared Understanding within Inter-Organizational Networks.', Industrial Marketing Management, 100 . pp. 76-87.


Actors in business networks often struggle to integrate their resources and bridge knowledge boundaries, which makes shared understanding difficult to establish and sustain. We develop the concept of interfirm problem representation (IFPR) to illustrate how networks of multidisciplinary teams create shared understanding and establish collective decisions in their day-to-day negotiations and joint problem-solving. IFPR is defined as an arrangement of localized artefacts or boundary objects that are jointly created by team members, and continuously adapted to facilitate mutual agreement and shared understanding in their daily conversations. We draw evidence from the UK construction industry to illustrate how team members from different organizations and knowledge domains manage their resource dependencies by creating IFPR as a common frame of reference to guide the implementation of their shared goals. Our data collection activities involve the observation of 3 different construction project teams over a period of 11 months. During the period, a total of 43 project team meetings were attended and 32 face-to-face interviews conducted across the 3 project teams. Findings from this study advance the discussion on subjective cognition and inter-subjective representations in networks by illustrating how diverse cognitive views and knowledge boundaries of network actors are synergized through an objectified system of representation. This enables us to offer important theoretical implications related to prior research on knowledge sharing and shared cognition. Our discussion highlights how actors, engaging in a shared activity that is extended over a period of time, collectively navigate different social contingencies while utilizing IFPR as a socio-historical artefact. IFPR enables network actors to critically review past mistakes to achieve improved collaborative outcomes.

Item Type:Article
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo until 20 November 2023.
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
Available under License - Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives 4.0.
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:© 2021 This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license
Date accepted:12 November 2021
Date deposited:19 November 2021
Date of first online publication:20 November 2021
Date first made open access:20 November 2023

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