Study title
The Role of Meetings in Strategy Process
Ref study 10644
Study language English
Contributing institutions
  • Organisation
  • Meetings
  • Strategy-as-practice
  • Strategy process
  • Strategy workshops
Geographical space
In the strategic management literature, meetings have not explicitly been considered part of the strategy process except in providing a "neutral" frame within which decision-making processes take place (Schwartzman, 1989). For example, meetings were used to study various types of decision such as budgeting decision (Hofstede, 1968), or strategic decision (Mintzberg, Raisinghani, & Theoret, 1976), but were not the main focus of researches. Contemporary work, however, suggests that meetings do not just provide empty shells for decision-processes which could as easily have taken place elsewhere, but that they actively influence organizations (Boden, 1994; Schwartzman, 1989). This influence is reflected through different functions, such as sense-making (Weick 1995), information gathering (Adams, 2004; Tepper, 2004) and agenda setting (Wodak 2001), that have been associated with meetings. More recently, studies have shown that meetings may directly affect the strategy process by stabilizing existing strategies or by shaping strategic change (Hodgkinson, Whittington, Johnson, & Schwarz, 2006; Jarzabkowski & Seidl, 2008). In an early work (1973) Mintzberg was one of the first to recognize explicitly the role of meetings in strategy formation when he wrote: "Three kinds of activities took place primarily at scheduled meetings - ceremony, strategy-making, and negotiation. The reasons are clear. All three are time-consuming and involve many participants, often from diverse places. Scheduling the meeting was the only way to bring these people together." (p.42). While the literature indicates that meetings do affect strategy formation, there are no coherent theories or measurable constructs that thoroughly examine how series of meetings affect strategy-making processes. This proposal intends to fill this gap by asking how series of meetings influence different phases of strategy process.

As a theoretical framework for this study, we adopt Burgelman's (1983; 1994) intraorganizational evolutionary model of strategy process which shows how variation, selection and retention shape strategic initiatives. This process model has been particularly useful to show how managerial activities of individuals combine to generate strategic outcomes at the organizational level and, vice-versa, how the organization affects the activities of those individuals (Burgelman, 1983,1991; Floyd & Lane, 2000). Furthermore, it allows researchers to map the meetings of the entire organization (top, middle and lower organizational levels) and gives the opportunity to follow strategy formation and social dynamics through time. Since knowledge of the relationship between meetings and strategy formation is rather unclear and quite understudied in the strategy process literature, the research design is based on an exploratory longitudinal qualitative case-study approach, where series of meetings embedded in the strategy process are the unit of analysis. This methodology is particularly relevant when the relationships between variables are not clear (Patton, 2002; Strauss & Corbin, 1998; Yin, 2003), the precedence of events is important (Langley, 1999) or when the phenomenon of interest is embedded in its context (Eisenhardt, 1989; Yin, 2003). This study meets all these criteria.

There are three main expected theoretical outputs of the proposed research project. Firstly, this research intends to "correct" the overemphasis on individuals at the expense of group dynamics (Wooldridge, Schmid, & Floyd, 2008) in the strategic management literature, by answering the calls from scholars for more work on the role of meetings in strategy formation (Jarzabkowski, 2005; Jarzabkowski & Seidl, 2008; Johnson, Langley, Melin, & Whittington, 2007; Wooldridge, Schmid, & Floyd, 2008). Secondly, this research aims at contributing to the evolutionary model of strategy-formation by identifying the contribution of meetings to the variation, selection and retention mechanisms. Thirdly, this research may provide insight as to the nature of interaction between process and meetings thereby contributing more generally to the strategy process literature (Langley, 2007; Pettigrew, 1985; Pettigrew, Ferlie, & McKee, 1992; Sminia, 2009; Van de Ven, 1992). Our proposed study has also important practical implications. In face of the large amount of time and money spent on meetings knowledge about the real effects of meetings is likely to be of particular value to managers in their decisions whether or not to schedule meetings. More particularly, the knowledge generated in this research may help managers to assess how meetings might be used to support the strategy process.
Methods (description)
Three reasons underlie our methodological choice. First, the relationship between meetings and strategy formation is still quite speculative so that qualitative methodologies are particularly appropriate (Patton, 2002; Strauss & Corbin, 1998; Yin, 2003). Second, in order to understand how series of meetings are embedded in strategy formation which evolves through time, a longitudinal case study approach is suitable to capture the subtleties of intermingled events and to account for the precedence of events (Langley, 1999). Third, case studies are indicated when the phenomenon under study interacts with the context in which it is embedded (Eisenhardt, 1989; Yin, 2003). Since we will scrutinize interactions between series of meetings and the strategy process in which they are embedded, the methodological choice seems particularly appropriate.

Case Selection
Cases will be selected using purposeful sampling (Yin, 2003). This exploratory research intends to follow on-going strategy-formation processes in different business units of a single organization. Since we intend to study the role of meetings in strategy formation, we will select a company which evolves in a dynamic and innovative environment where coordination mechanisms, such as meetings, are believed to play a crucial role (Galbraith, 1973,2005). Since the medical device industry is well established in Switzerland (Espicom_Business_Intelligence, 2009) and is highly dynamic and innovative, it constitutes a good candidate for this research. Furthermore, access should not be a problem since we have personal contacts with this industry and have already informally talked about our research project. Strategic issues such as increasing market penetration, launching a new product line or acquiring a company will be identified and then followed through meetings across organizational levels. Thus, the level of analysis of our project is the strategy formation process associated with specific outcomes and the unit of analysis is the series of meetings embedded in these strategic processes.

Since our model conceptualizes the involvement of meetings which are dispersed across the organization, this research will document how meetings at different organizational levels and in different departments contribute to strategy process. Therefore, we are interested in how different meetings contribute to strategy process and how the strategy process affects meetings.
Before choosing the sample of meetings, we will need firstly to identify specific strategic issues and trace how they travel through meetings and secondly we will map each organization in order to become familiar with their different meeting structures. Only then will we be able to identify which meetings are worth following in order to capture strategic activity (obviously the top management meetings will be included). We expect to attend four meetings per week on average per organization.

Data Collection
Data collection will involve three main operations: 1) documenting organizational contexts, 2) observing meetings for 4 non-consecutive months (every three months); and 3) interviewing people and obtaining written material on meetings. In order to capture strategic activity over a longer period of time, data collection will alternate between nonparticipant observation and interviews.

1. Documenting organizational contexts. At the organizational level, four interviews will be performed in order to understand the formal organizational structures of the companies (departments, committees, systems of incentives, rules and regulations, centralization/decentralization, central processes, etc.), their culture and value systems, and their strategic orientations (strategic priorities, mission, etc.). We will target people within each organization who can provide relevant information about the organization. Documentation such as annual reports, audit documents, books of minutes, memoranda, informative documentation and other internal reports that may help to understand the dynamic, the strategy, the processes and the structure of the organization are to be analyzed. Finally, public documents about current issues regarding these organizations are to be reviewed.

2. Nonparticipant observation of meetings. During twelve months, we will attend the most important meetings which are related to the two strategic issues that we will map in the organization. We will attend these meetings on a weekly basis for four non-consecutive monthly periods. Every three months, we will observe meetings for one month. Overall, we intend to attend around six meetings per week (three meetings for top, middle and operational levels times two strategic initiatives). These nonparticipant observation periods will alternate with interviews which we will conduct across organizational levels in order to follow the evolution of the strategy and to capture the dynamic of strategy formation within meetings over a fairly long period of time (i.e., 12 months including the pre-observation period). Meetings will be carefully selected to ensure that they are relevant for strategic initiatives.

We expect that meetings will last two hours on average. Observing these meetings will require the presence on the site of one PhD student for four non-consecutive months, as well as the presence of the supervisor and a post-doctoral researcher. Since meetings will almost certainly take place on different days, the student will need to travel frequently. All meetings will be recorded and typed by a professional typist. With 24 meetings on average per month, we expect a total of 96 meetings to be recorded and transcribed (see Table 4). As recommended by Yin (2003), researchers will also take detailed notes of their observations in the meetings within 24 hours after they end, especially for pre- and post-meeting observations (Jarzabkowski, 2008). For triangulation purposes (Patton, 2002; Yin, 2003), we will collect material that organizations produce in their meeting minutes between and within nonparticipant meetings.

3. Documenting meetings through interviews and documentation. To start with, we will go through all meeting minutes of the six months previous to our first nonparticipant observation at the top and middle management levels in order to capture what were the main issues raised. This will allow us to get acquainted with the organizational imperatives and with the type of arguments used in these meetings and by whom. Besides providing a basic understanding of the dynamic of previous meetings, it will allow us to identify strategic issues that we should follow more closely.
In addition, retrospective interviews covering the meetings of the last six months will be conducted with 4 key informants. These will be recorded by the PhD student and typed by a professional typist. The interviews and the documents should highlight the dynamics of the meetings across organizational levels and we should thus gain a better understanding of issues discussed be able to identify the agenda of each party or individual involved in the meetings. Furthermore, key actors in the meetings and key external stakeholders will also be identified by this method.

Between the periods of nonparticipant observation described earlier, we will conduct 4 interviews for a one-year period. Overall, 20 interviews of approximately two hours will be conducted. We will also collect and analyse written documents on the meetings to follow the course of action. These interviews and the collection of documents will be conducted within two weeks before a new period of nonparticipant observation begins. This will provide evidence of the main issues addressed within meetings between our observations and it will be used to evaluate to what extent issues discussed in meetings are reflected into the day-to-day organizational activity. Graph 1 shows how nonparticipant observations and interviews alternate in time.

The use of multiple data sources combined with an engagement in the field is necessary because it increases the validity of the data and of the analysis (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). As was mentioned in several places in the research proposition, we will need the support of a professional typist to write up 96 meetings and 20 interviews. All the data collection and data analysis will be performed by one PhD student with the assistance of a post-doctoral research fellow and under the supervisor.

Methods (instruments)
Replicated study No
Unpublished documents
  • Dittrich, Katharina; Guérard, Stéphane; Seidl, David. 2010. The Role of Meetings in the Strategy Process: Review and Future Directions. Working Paper, December 20th 2010.
  • Schweg, Karen Ariane; Guérard, Stéphane; Seidl, David. A practice-based framework of organizational meetings: A review and new conceptualization. Under review with the Journal of Management Studies.
Financed by
Ethical approval No
Study type
Data availability
Source (Updates)
Date created 09.12.2011
Date modified 09.12.2011
Start - End date 01.09.2010 - 28.09.2013