New Venture Teams and Uncertainty: Implications of interacting in the unknown
Licentiate thesis, 2017
Entrepreneurship research has historically taken the perspective of the individual entrepreneur. This trend is slowly changing as mounting evidence shows that many new ventures are started by teams, and teamwork has important implications for new venture creation. Scholars working to establish this new team-based branch of entrepreneurship have initially borrowed perspectives from upper echelons (top management team) and more recently organizational team literature. However, a fundamental aspect of entrepreneurship differentiates new venture teamwork from teamwork in the aforementioned bodies of knowledge, and has yet to be thoroughly considered: uncertainty.
The purpose of this thesis is to explore how new venture teamwork is influenced by uncertainty. To do so, uncertainty in the context of new venture teamwork is conceptualized using the ‘entrepreneurial problem space’ developed by Sarasvathy (2001, 2008) consisting of three types of uncertainty: Knightian (1921), goal ambiguity and isotropy. Using a mixed methods approach, new venture teams in a Swedish incubator and accelerator program are studied to investigate the influence of these three types of uncertainty on two broad categories of teamwork: team structure and team member interaction.
Findings indicate that overall, new venture teamwork is a different beast. Facing multidimensional uncertainties makes new venture teams much more dynamic and interactive than what is currently captured in upper echelons or organizational team literature. In terms of structure, uncertainty leads to fluidity in team boundaries, membership, and roles as team members continually interact with each other and the environment. Configuration is thus flexible, and trusting as opposed to controlling norms are preferred. In terms of team member interactions, uncertainty intensifies relational demands on team members and triggers a heightened need for trust and open communication. In this space team member interaction takes on transformational as opposed to transactive qualities and calls for a behavioral approach that is linked to altruism. The thesis concludes by suggesting five emerging elements of team-working under uncertainty, and argues that uncertainty should be a central part of any theory of new venture teamwork as scholars continue to develop this branch of entrepreneurship research.
new venture team