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The Whole Is More Than the Sum of Its Parts - Or Is It? A Review of the Empirical Literature on Complementarities in Organizations

Ennen, Edgar and Richter, Ansgar (2009): The Whole Is More Than the Sum of Its Parts - Or Is It? A Review of the Empirical Literature on Complementarities in Organizations.

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Abstract

The concept of complementarity and its role in the design of organizations has enjoyed increasing attention over the past twenty years. We provide a systematic review of the empirical studies on complementarities in leading journals in management, economics and related disciplines that considers the nature of the factors among which complementarities are found to exist, and the effects of complementarities in organizations. Our findings suggest that complementarities result from the skilful matching of heterogeneous resources which generate positive returns above and beyond the effect of each resource generated on its own. In contrast, the empirical evidence on complementarities between individual organizational and HR practices in firms provides mixed conclusions. We show that complementarities are likely to materialize in complex systems of multiple design elements. Therefore, future research should aim at uncovering complementary effects among multiple elements that capture organizational systems better than a few selected elements only do.

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