Research Summary

Hybrid organizing

by Julie Battilana


While historically the commercial and social sectors have evolved on fairly separate tracks, over the last 30 years we have witnessed a blurring of the boundaries between these two sectors. In an effort to account for this transition, Professor Battilana’s second stream of research on hybrid organizing examines the combination in organizations of aspects of typical corporations and typical not-for-profits. As organizations increasingly engage in hybrid organizing, Professor Battilana’s work aims to understand the challenges they face and how they can be overcome. To do so, she has thus far focused on the case of social enterprises that can be seen a laboratory for exploring new corporate models that combine aspects of corporations and not-for-profits. 

Not all organizations engage in hybrid organizing to the same extent – social enterprises are an interesting extreme case because they combine aspects of both corporations and not-for-profits at their core. Indeed, their sustainability depends both on the advancement of their social mission and on their commercial performance. They need to pursue commercial goals while not losing sight of their social goals. At the same time, they need to make sure that their social goals do not prevent them from generating the commercial revenues necessary for survival. Is it possible for such hybrid organizations to maintain their hybridity and sustain high levels of both social and economic performance?  And if so, how? These questions lie at the heart of Professor Battilana’s research on hybrid organizing. 

Building on both theoretical and empirical work in the context of commercial microfinance organizations and work integration social enterprises, Professor Battilana’s work shows that hybrid organizing raises distinct challenges for social enterprises due to their unusual straddling of the social and commercial sectors. In addition to understanding these challenges, studies in this stream also examine how these challenges can be sustainably overcome. To do so, building on her theoretical and empirical work, Professor Battilana identifies five dimensions of hybrid organizing: organizational activities, workforce composition, organizational design, inter-organizational relationships, and culture. Her research accounts for the level of integration between the social and commercial aspects of all five dimensions. Studies in this stream show that all hybrids are not integrated or differentiated equally across all of these dimensions but rather there are various possible configurations of hybrid organizing. Specifically, findings reveal that both integrated and differentiated configurations of hybrid organizing are sustainable under different conditions.

Professor Battilana is currently building a unique longitudinal database of social ventures that already includes 2500 entrepreneurs based in 114 countries and operating in 30 different industries. She is using this database in order to analyze the profile of the founders of hybrid organizations and to further examine the impact of different hybrid organizing configurations on ventures’ commercial and social performance.

Taken together, Professor Battilana’s work on hybrid organizing contributes to organization scholarship and practice by showing that the factors enabling hybrids to succeed in the pursuit of their dual (commercial and social) objectives are different from the ones that enable non-hybrids to succeed. These findings have implications for social enterprises, and beyond, for any kind of organization that engages in hybrid organizing.