Up close and personal: How relational dynamics in founding teams are shaped by the context of entrepreneurship

Abstract: Despite increased interest in the phenomena of team-based entrepreneurship, we still don’t know why some teams are more effective than others in their entrepreneurial pursuits. In fact, scholars acknowledge that we have yet to get a firm grasp on what teams ‘are’ in this unique work context, not least because their emotional and relational dynamics remain understudied. This thesis argues that in order to open this black box of interpersonal processes, we need to acknowledge that these are not your typical ‘work-team’ relationships. Rather, the extreme experience of entrepreneurship extends to extreme relational experience of team members. Just as entrepreneurs shake up the status quo with their fresh perspectives and new ideas, the uncertain, unstructured, emotional context of entrepreneurship shakes up the status quo of what we expect of team member relationships at work. Thus, if we hope to understand these teams and how they work together, we need new thinking and new theories that get at the heart of these extreme work relationships.  This thesis consists of five papers and uses a mixed methods approach to examine how relational dynamics in founding teams are shaped by the context of entrepreneurship. The setting for the research is a university incubator in northern Europe where founding teams are accessed prior to incorporation, and often prior to team formation. The thesis puts forth a theoretical model that posits four main interconnected findings: (1) team member relationships act as a stand-in for organizational structures, (2) the context demands close relationships, (3) close relationship models such as the family fit to study and understand relational dynamics, and (4) the interaction context calls for interpersonal courage, intimacy, and a willingness to be vulnerable. Together the papers show that the emotionality of entrepreneurship stems not only from the characteristics of the context, but from the relationality of this unique kind of teamwork. The thesis contributes to the entrepreneurship literature by challenging and shifting the way we see and study teams in this context, suggesting fresh perspectives and possible ways forward. In doing so, the thesis adds richness and depth to our understanding of this emotional and inherently social phenomenon, while shedding light on why some teams may fail while others stay the course.

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