The Pandora's box of social integration mechanisms

Craig E. Armstrong (Department of Management & Marketing, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA)
Cynthia A. Lengnick‐Hall (Department of Management, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas, USA)

Journal of Strategy and Management

ISSN: 1755-425X

Publication date: 15 February 2013



The purpose of this paper is to perform empirical tests to explore the influence of social integration mechanisms on organizations’ absorptive capacities theorized by Zahra and George.


This study uses a cross‐sectional design to test the relationships between potential absorptive capacity, three social integration mechanisms (cross‐functional teams, participation in decision making, and self‐managing teams), and realized absorptive capacity, in a sample of 92 organizations that bid competitively to provide products and services to a US university.


An organization's use of cross‐functional teams is negatively related to its realized absorptive capacity and negatively moderates the relationship between potential and realized absorptive capacity. Self‐managing teams negatively moderate the relationship between an organization's potential absorptive capacity and its realized absorptive capacity.

Research limitations/implications

The cross‐sectional design allows tests of relatedness but does not support cause‐and‐effect inferences.

Practical implications

Managers who follow the prescriptive implications of using social integration mechanisms to enhance their organization's absorptive capacity may actually hinder it. The type of social integration mechanism is an important consideration for managers of firm strategies.


This study extends and challenges the literature on absorptive capacity through its empirical analysis of the role of social integration mechanisms on an organization's absorptive capacity. Social integration mechanisms can have mixed moderating effects on the absorptive capacity development process, and potential absorptive capacity is not easily transformed into realized absorptive capacity. This study expands the context of absorptive capacity beyond R&D settings and incorporates a task environment that allows a direct linking of inputs and outputs.



Armstrong, C. and Lengnick‐Hall, C. (2013), "The Pandora's box of social integration mechanisms", Journal of Strategy and Management, Vol. 6 No. 1, pp. 4-26.

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