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Organizational Routines

The Problem

Routines are central elements of each organization. While during most of the 20th century this concept was mostly used to refer to the rationalization of organizational processes by means of programming, nowadays it is very often used to focus empirical research on action patterns to be observed in organizational practice. The central insight of this new stream of empirical research on routines is that they are in fact not as stable and “mindless”, as was often assumed by organizational scholars. Instead, they found that routines are dynamically evolving over time. The reason is that they are not the result of mindless repetition, but instead are brought about by mindful actors.

While this stream of research has brought about a lot of important and new insights on actually observable action patterns in organizations, it essentially focusses on internal dynamics within single routines. What is missing is up till now is a perspective on routine and organizational dynamics that includes the fact of interdependencies between routines. This is important because an organization does not consist of a single routine of a simple agglomeration of routines. Instead, routines are entangled in a complex web of interdependencies with other routines.

Our research addresses this gap. We aim to systematically develop a proper conceptualization and conduct rigorous empirical research on the morphology and dynamics of interdependent routines. First results of our research illustrate that the solutions to problems of integration which result from division of labor between routines lead to the emergence of a meso-level behavioral unit which we call the ROUTINE CLUSTER. A routine cluster consists of multiple, complementary routines, each contributing a partial result to the accomplishment of a common task. The central insight here is that these routine clusters develop dynamics on their own. In contrast to the variation-inducing dynamics that are observable on the level of single routines, these dynamics are restricting, amounting to an endogenous limit to change in routines and organizations respectively. In order to benefit from complementarities the routines of a cluster become attuned to one another. The flip of this development is that the costs of integrating new, misfitting routines increase considerably. Over time – and notwithstanding the endogenous dynamics of single routines – this misfit-dynamic can lead to path dependence and lock-in of the cluster as a whole. It is the central thesis of our research, that, in order to protect the realized complementarities between its established routines, a routine cluster will only accept innovations that are along its emergent trajectory, while rejecting radical innovations (frame-braking change).


Key Projects

Interdependence and Path Dependence

Temporality of Routines



Kremser W., Schreyögg G. (2015): The Dynamics of Interrelated Routines. Introducing the Cluster Level. Accepted for Publication in Organization Science.