How managerial capabilities of cognitive and behavioural complexity enable dynamic tension between management controls

T. Toldbod, J. Dumay

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Purpose: Inspired by leadership research, this paper aims to further the literature on management controls (MCs) by highlighting two managerial capabilities that cultivate dynamic tension. More specifically, we explore how countervailing MCs can be designed and used to create a coordinated and adaptable organisation. These capabilities reveal key insights into dynamic tension because they help us to understand the role of managers and why, how and when some companies succeed in creating dynamic tension while others struggle. Design/methodology/approach: These research objectives are met through a case study on a global manufacturing company called GLOCOMP to preserve anonymity. The authors chose GLOCOMP because it comprises many internal units that must work in a coordinated fashion. However, it is equally important that the units are flexible enough to adapt to their unique local conditions. These two aspirations must be balanced, which necessitates dynamic tension between MCs. Hence, the case provides fertile ground for us to investigate the capabilities that help managers design and use countervailing MCs. Findings: The empirical setting shows that cognitive and behavioural complexity are the keys to successfully designing and using countervailing loose and tight MCs concurrently. Using MCs that work in opposite directions produces a dynamic tension that helps individual units to coordinate their internal supply chains while adapting to fulfil unique roles within the company. Originality/value: This paper extends previous research by exploring two specific managerial capabilities that enable dynamic tension – cognitive and behavioural complexity. The authors provide specific insights into how managers can create dynamic tension and, further, by highlighting the specific capabilities that give rise to dynamic tension, the authors outline a procedural perspective where a manager’s capabilities and dynamic tension inform one another. The resulting virtuous circle extends the understanding of the relationship between dynamic tension and managerial expertise beyond what the authors currently know as a linear cause-effect correlation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalQualitative Research in Accounting and Management
Pages (from-to)515-542
Number of pages28
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Behavioural complexity
  • Cognitive complexity
  • Dynamic tension
  • Management control
  • Managerial capabilities


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