Employee learning in a transient alliance: Exploring enablers, facilitators and obstacles

Daniela F. Rubio Rius

University of Canterbury, Masters Thesis, 2015


Aim of the study. The aim of this study is to explore the main contributors and obstacles to employee learning in the context of an alliance using the framework of a complex embedded multiple - case study. The two participant alliance partner organisations (APOs) are natural competitors that are joined to respond to urgent community needs of the city of Christchurch following the major earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011. At the moment of the in-depth interviews, it had been about four years since those events occurred. There are continuous, unexpected circumstances that still require attention. However, the alliance has an expiry date, thus reinforcing the uncertain work environment.

Method. Employee learning is examined using a qualitative, inductive approach to data analysis. Ten participants were invited, five from each alliance partner organisation with the aim to increase validity of findings as a cross-case analysis was also performed, and current data were triangulated with archival data. Employees were not given a pre-defined definition of learning to allow for a more free flow of conversation while their own views were shared. Emerging themes were then compared to extant literature – mainly from the cognitive constructivist psychology literature, but also organisational learning research.

Conclusion. The main enablers found were participative, collaborative learning encouraged by leaders who embraced the alliance’s “learning organisational culture”. Employees generate innovations mostly in social interaction with others, while taking on responsibility for their learning by learning from mistakes. The main obstacle found is competition, as inhibitor of collaboratively sharing their knowledge out of fear of losing their competitiveness.

Limitations. Given time constraints, it was not possible to continue recruiting participants for this study. Therefore, an uneven number of participants – five from APO1 and 3 from APO2 did not allow for a proper cross - unit analysis, therefore undermining cross - validation efforts.

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