This paper aims to investigate the organisational development of three small‐ and medium‐sized social enterprises (SMSEs). The objectives of the paper are to highlight the critical stages of development that have led to change, growth and success for these enterprises. Although social purpose organisations have existed for some time, recent political interest in the subject has created a new and emerging field of interest where little empirical research exists. This paper examines how SMSEs evolve, utilizing the framework of organisational life cycle (OLC) models, specifically Adizes's model. Thus, drawing on the OLC field of study this paper will make a significant contribution to a deeper understanding of social enterprise development.
A qualitative methodological approach was undertaken in order to understand the stories and experiences. A semi‐structured approach enabled the researcher to gain deep insights into the life cycle stages that changed and developed each of these organisations over time – which would not have been as insightful through a quantitative methodological approach.
The key findings indicate that a host of internal and external incidents were critical to the development of these firms. The entrepreneurialism shown within these organisations was crucial. These three firms all grew from community‐based campaigns that were able to exploit financial opportunities and grow with a momentum over a number of years. The organisation structures, although different across the three cases, were critical factors in the ability to deliver, develop skills and handle growth. Through analysing these cases through the framework of the OLC model we found that the development stages were similar and that the model is a useful lens for viewing social enterprise organisation development.
Empirical evidence of this nature is currently lacking from the SMSE community. This research therefore contributes to the knowledge capital on this sector and is important for practitioners, business support agencies and academics in understanding the organisational development of social enterprises.
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