INSEAD Working Paper 2011/62/TOM
Search theory describes how organizations address problems that are too complex to be solved through optimization. Because most high-level strategic initiatives fall into this category, search is at the heart of strategic processes in most organizations. Search theory has examined how aspects of the organizational context (such as cognition, modularity, organizational structures, and decentralization of decision making) influence search performance. In examining organizational processes, search theory has focused on coordination – making separate parallel decision domains mutually compatible. The theory has not incorporated a typical element of search in real organizations: collaboration, or several actors combining their problem solving activities to develop a solution for a common problem. This paper builds a theory of collaborative search. We identify the organizational settings for which collaboration is beneficial, provide guidance on when collaboration does not improve performance, and identify methods for making collaboration effective when it is appropriate.