Do ongoing networks block out new friends? Reconciling the embeddedness constraint dilemma on new alliance partner addition

December 2018 | Cannella, Albert

Research Summary: This study addresses a theoretical dilemma regarding how alliance network constraint (reflected by network cohesion) affects a firm’s alliance formation with new partners. Using a network pluralism approach, we separate a firm’s ego alliance network into two activity-based networks—an exploratory network and an exploitative network—based on the primary value chain activity involved in each alliance. We argue that the cohesion of exploratory or exploitative networks has an inverted U-shaped effect on the addition of new partners in the same activity-based network, and a positive effect on the addition of new partners in the other network. Results based on data from the biotechnology industry largely support our predictions with one exception. Our study contributes to both scholarly understanding of network embeddedness and alliance practice. Managerial Summary: The structure of firms’ ongoing alliance networks may have paradoxical implications for their efforts to search for and form alliance with new partners. That is, when a firm’s alliance partners are tightly connected with each other, the cohesive network tends to both encourage and impede the focal firm to add new partners. We resolve this dilemma by showing that when a firm is deeply entrenched in a cohesive alliance network conducting a certain type of activities (e.g., R&D activities), it may not easily add new R&D alliance partners. However, it may still be able to escape from the cohesive R&D alliance network by seeking new partners conducting other activities (e.g., manufacturing activities).



  • Han Jiang
  • Jun Xia
  • Albert Cannella


Strategic Management Journal