In the era of knowledge economy, the implementation of collaborative innovation strategy is important to effectively integrate internal and external resources and improve innovation efficiency. Collaborative innovation, which means the integration of various innovation elements and the barrier-free flow of innovation resources, can promote deep cooperation. With the integration of technological innovation and industrial development, how to improve the effect of collaborative innovation has become an important issue related to the competitive advantage of firms. In addition, the top management team, as the strategy maker, is critical to the advancement of collaborative innovation strategies. Therefore, it is of great practical significance and value to explore the impact of characteristics of top management team on collaborative innovation performance.
According to theupper echelon theory, a firm’s behaviors are reflected by the cognitive foundation and values of the Top Management Team (TMT), composed of CEOs and key managers, and TMT diversity reflects the differences in preferences, ideas, and information networks. Research on TMT diversity and innovation focuses on two aspects. One focus is the relationship between TMT diversity and external network heterogeneity. The research findings are as follows: TMT diversity determines the number of types of external networks; TMT diversity can improve network heterogeneity, and network heterogeneity can promote integration of external knowledge and improve innovation performance. The second focus is the relationship between TMT diversity and innovation. The corresponding research findings are that TMT diversity can enhance business performance by new product innovation and scientific decision-making. However, some studies suggest that the relationship between TMT diversity and innovation changes with the changing environment and it is difficult to determine the relationship between TMT diversity and the output. Overall, there are few empirical studies on TMT diversity and collaborative innovation, especially those with indirect and contextual factors considered. However, the study of this relationship helps refine the upper echelon theory and synergy theory. Therefore, the main concerns of this study are the mechanism and contextual factors of the impact of TMT diversity on collaborative innovation.
Based on the aforementioned research gaps, from the perspective of TMT diversity, this study intends to explore ways to enhance collaborative innovation performance by considering the mediating effects of strategic orientation and collaborative learning and the moderating effect of environmental dynamics. In this study, collaborative innovation performance is measured from two aspects: synergy and innovation. Strategic orientation is divided into market orientation, technology orientation, green orientation and network orientation, and collaborative learning is divided into exploratory learning, exploitative learning and inter-organizational learning. The impact of TMT diversity on collaborative innovation performance, strategic orientation and collaborative learning is examined. Besides, the mediating roles of strategic orientation and collaborative learning on the relationship between TMT diversity and collaborative innovation performance are explored. Additionally, environmental dynamics is divided into technical environment dynamics and market environment dynamics. The effects of environmental dynamics on the relationship between strategic orientation and collaborative innovation performance and on the relationship between collaborative learning and collaborative innovation performance are explored. Data used in this study are the survey data of 431 manufacturing firms in Yangtze River Delta. First, the measurement indicators in the initial questionnaire are modified by consulting relevant experts in academia and business. Second, forty firms were selected for small-scale interviews to further refine the questionnaire. Finally, a formal investigation was conducted. A total of 1020 questionnaires were distributed, and 431 valid questionnaires were returned. The recovery rate was 42.3%.
The empirical results show that TMT diversity has both direct effect and indirect positive effects on collaborative innovation performance. Meanwhile, TMT diversity has a positive impact on strategic orientation, and each dimension of strategic orientation (i.e., market orientation, technology orientation, network orientation and green orientation) mediates the relationship between TMT diversity and corporate collaborative innovation performance. This implies that the independent and sensitive perspective of the heterogeneous top management team can influence each aspect of strategic orientation, and contribute to collaborative innovation performance. Besides, TMT diversity contributes to the collaborative learning of firms. Each dimension of collaborative learning (exploratory learning, exploitative learning and inter-organizational learning) is a mediator of the relationship between TMT diversity and collaborative innovation performance. This reveals that TMT with high diversity has a more complete prior knowledge base, and can conduct exploratory learning, exploitative learning and inter-organizational learning. The ability of absorbing new knowledge and transforming new knowledge can be improved, and collaborative innovation performance will be improved. In addition, environmental dynamics has significant moderating effects on the relationships between strategic orientation, collaborative learning and collaborative innovation performance. With the increase of environmental dynamics, the impacts of strategic orientation and collaborative learning on collaborative innovation performance will increase. In the context of high environmental dynamics, it is better to adapt to the environment with strategic orientation and collaborative learning, and adjust the focus of strategic orientation and collaborative learning according to the characteristics of the environment.
The above research findings prove the positive effects of TMT diversity on strategic orientation, collaborative learning and collaborative innovation performance. Based on the above empirical research results, the following policy recommendations are proposed: First, firms should construct a heterogeneous TMT with complementary advantages. Top management team is the most important human resource for a firm. Therefore, during the formation and selection process, it is necessary for TMT to focus on diversity. Second, firms should strategically design their structures and make a balance between exploratory, exploitative and inter-organizational learning. A firm can rely on long-term cooperative relationships with core partners to carry out exploitative learning, and can also explore new knowledge through different partners with inter-organizational learning. Third, firms should take use of the dynamic environment and enhance the strategic flexibility and learning ability. With the increasingly serious environmental problems in the 21st century, the development of green products is to fulfill the social responsibilities of firms, and forming a green strategic orientation is a must to satisfy the green needs of consumers. Therefore, firms should develop TMT with high diversity to improve their collaborative innovation capabilities.