Sub-theme 65: Routine Dynamics: Relating Micro-actions and Organizational Outcomes

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Fleur Deken
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Brian T. Pentland
Michigan State University, USA
Jörg Sydow
Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Call for Papers

Over the past 20 years, routine dynamics research has matured and provided a solid foundation for understanding organizational routines as ‘patterns of action’ that generate a broad range of outcomes, including stability and change (Feldman et al., 2016). Going forward, routine dynamics research has been helping us to see how seemingly mundane actions generate a variety of meso- and macro-organizational phenomena, including capabilities (Salvato, 2009), innovation (Sele & Grand, 2016; Deken et al., 2016), coordination (Jarzabowski et al., 2012), interorganizational collaboration (Edmondson & Zuzul, 2016), routine design (Pentland & Feldman, 2008) and organizational schema (Rerup & Feldman, 2011). These studies have created a rigorous, close-knit coupling between empirical data and theoretical explanations that is built around a relational perspective on agency (Emirbayer & Mische, 1998). In spirit of this growing body of work, we argue that the routine dynamics lens can provide promising foundations for addressing recent calls from practice-based scholars to connect micro-level actions to meso and macro-level processes and outcomes (see, for example, Kouamé & Langley, 2017; Salvato & Rerup, 2011; Whittington, 2017).
Recent advances in routine dynamics, we believe, will be particularly useful for analyzing such processes across levels and time–space scales. First, work on interdependencies between routines (i.e., clusters, ecologies, interrelated routines, for example, Deken et al., 2016; Kremser et al., 2019; Kremser & Schreyögg, 2016; Sele & Grand, 2016) will be useful to trace how outcomes take form across micro-actions over time. Second, recent work has shown the potential of deploying digital trace data to study action patterns that span across place and time (Pentland et al., 2019). Because work is increasingly mediated through digital technologies, such as algorithms and robots, the wealth of digital trace data provides opportunities to empirically study how micro-actions (on the scale of minutes or seconds) relate into meso- or macro-level outcomes (on the scale of months or years).
We also see increasing interest in applying routine dynamics to the practical problems faced by practitioners. Routines are often explicitly managed and designed to generate espoused organizational outcomes (e.g., Glaser, 2017; Schmidt et al., 2019). However, we know relatively little about how the generative and endogenous routine dynamics interact with such management and design processes (Beverungen, 2014; Wegener et al., 2019) and digital technologies (e.g., Berente et al., 2016; D’Adderio, 2001; Leonardi, 2011). Managers are increasingly pressured to overcome structural inertia and institutional persistence. Between organizational path dependencies (Sydow et al., 2009) on the one hand and so-called grand challenges for organizations and societies on the other, understanding processes of intentional routine change and (re)design with an eye on macro effects is an important concern that warrants further research.
This sub-theme aims to unite practice-based scholars, including those studying strategy, collaboration, innovation, technology, and institutions to debate how we can connect micro-actions to macro or aggregate outcomes, while striving for both rigor and relevance in our research. We thus invite scholars to ‘look further’ – in the spirit of the ‘inclusivity’ 2021 EGOS theme – and reach across debates in adjacent fields of practice-based research in organization studies. We welcome submissions on the following topics, as well as topics that relate to routine dynamics more generally:

  • Micro-actions and macro/meso outcomes. How do routine performances relate to meso-level outcomes? How do micro-actions accumulate into larger outcomes (e.g., through structuration processes, Sydow et al., 2012)? How and when do micro-action instantiate outcomes? What processes explain patterns of stability in outcomes (e.g., such as replication and stability of outcomes) versus realizing novel outcomes (e.g., innovation)?

  • Actor’s orientations and intentionality. Since routines are often performed with certain espoused/envisioned outcomes in mind, how does such teleology shape routine performances over time, e.g., when redesigning routines? How do processes of emerging intentionality (Dittrich & Seidl, 2018) interact with actors’ planned/teleological orientations? What role do intermediate outcomes play in the process of generating macro-level (organization/institutional, see Smets et al., 2017) outcomes?

  • Stability and path dependence. How do patterns in routine dynamics over time generate not only endogenous stabilities (Pentland et al., 2012) but also path dependencies? How do interdependencies between routines in some instances trigger path dependencies of collectivities of routines or even organizations or interorganizational arrangements (Sydow et al., 2009), while in others they enable taking new actions to realize novel outcomes (Deken et al., 2016)?

  • Deploying digital trace data. What affordances do digital trace data provide routine dynamics scholars to zoom out and study larger scale activities within and across organizations and over time? How can qualitative and quantitative approaches be effectively combined in studying routine dynamics? How can simulation models enable addressing such questions (see also Kouamé & Langley, 2017)?

  • Routine management, design, and digital technologies. How do design performances (Glaser, 2017) and routine performances interact? What role do experiments play in (re)designing routines (e.g., Bucher & Langley 2016)? How are routines in organizations shaped and/or transformed by digital technologies, such as algorithms, robots, and AI, and vice versa? What characterizes algorithmic routines and how do these affect contemporary organizing?


  • Berente, N., Lyytinen, K., Yoo, Y., & King, J.L. (2016): “Routines as shock absorbers during organizational transformation: Integration, control, and NASA’s enterprise information system.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 551–572.
  • Beverungen, D. (2014): “Exploring the interplay of the design and emergence of business processes as organizational routines.” Wirtschaftsinformatik, 56 (4), 209–222.
  • Bucher, S., & Langley, A. (2016): “The interplay of reflective and experimental spaces in interrupting and reorienting routine dynamics.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 594–613.
  • D’Adderio, L. (2001): “Crafting the virtual prototype: how firms integrate knowledge and capabilities across organisational boundaries.” Research Policy, 30 (9), 1409–1424.
  • Deken, F., Carlile, P. R., Berends, H., & Lauche, K. (2016): “Generating novelty through interdependent routines: A process model of routine work.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 659–677.
  • Dittrich, K., & Seidl, D. (2018): “Emerging intentionality in routine dynamics: A pragmatist view.” Academy of Management Journal, 61 (1), 111–138.
  • Edmondson, A.C., & Zuzul, T. (2016): “Teaming routines in complex innovation projects.” In: J.A. Howard-Grenville, C. Rerup, A. Langley & H. Tsoukas (eds.): Perspective on Process Organization Studies. Organizational Routines: How They Are Created, Maintained, and Changed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 179–202.
  • Emirbayer, M., & Mische, A. (1998): “What is agency.” Americal Journal of Sociology, 103 (4), 962–1023.
  • Feldman, M.S., Pentland, B.T., D’Adderio, L., & Lazaric, N. (2016): “Beyond routines as things: Introduction to the special issue on routine dynamics.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 505–513.
  • Glaser, V.L. (2017): “Design performances: How organizations inscribe artifacts to change routines.” Academy of Management Journal, 60 (6), 2126–2154.
  • Jarzabkowski, P., Lê, J.K., & Feldman, M.S. (2012): “Towards a theory of coordinating: Creating coordinating mechanisms in practice.” Organization Science, 23 (4), 907–927.
  • Leonardi, P.M. (2011): “When flexible routines meet flexible technologies: Affordance, constraint, and the imbrication of human and material agencies.” MIS Quarterly, 5 (1), 147–167.
  • Kremser, W., Pentland, B.T., & Brunswicker, S. (2019): “Interdependence within and between routines: A performative perspective.” Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 61, 79–98.
  • Kremser, W., & Schreyögg, G. (2016): “The dynamics of interrelated routines: Introducing the cluster level.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 698–721.
  • Kouamé, S., & Langley, A. (2018): “Relating microprocesses to macro-outcomes in qualitative strategy process and practice research.” Strategic Management Journal, 39 (3), 559–581.
  • Pentland, B.T., & Feldman, M.S. (2008): “Designing routines: On the folly of designing artifacts, while hoping for patterns of action.” Information and Organization, 18 (4), 235–250.
  • Pentland, B.T., Feldman, M.S., Becker, M.C., & Liu, P. (2012): “Dynamics of organizational routines: A generative model.” Journal of Management Studies, 49 (8), 1484–150.
  • Pentland, B.T., Ryan, J.L., Xie, Y., Kim, I., Frank, K., & Pentland, A.P. (2019): “Visualizing clinical routines: What can we see with digital trace data.” Paper presented at the 11th International Symposium on Process, Organization Studies, Chania, Greece, June 2019.
  • Rerup, C., & Feldman, M.S. (2011): “Routines as a source of change in organizational schemata: The role of trial-and-error learning.” Academy of Management Journal, 54 (3), 577–610.
  • Salvato, C. (2009): “Capabilities unveiled: The role of ordinary activities in the evolution of product development processes.” Organization Science, 20 (2), 384–409.
  • Salvato, C., & Rerup, C. (2011): “Beyond collective entities: Multilevel research on organizational routines and capabilities.” Journal of Management, 37 (2), 468–490.
  • Schmidt, T., Braun, T., & Sydow, J. (2019): “Copying routines for new venture creation: How replication can support entrepreneurial innovation.” Research in Sociology of Organizations, 61, 55–78.
  • Sele, K., & Grand, S. (2016): “Unpacking the dynamics of ecologies of routines: Mediators and their generative effects in routine interactions.” Organization Science, 27 3), 722–738.
  • Smets, M., Greenwood, R., & Lounsbury, M. (2017): “Towards a practice-driven institutionalism.” In: D. Golsorkhi, L. Rouleau, D. Seidl & E. Vaara (eds.): The Cambridge Handbook of Strategy as Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 283–200.
  • Sydow, J., Windeler, A., Schubert, C., & Möllering, G. (2012): “Organizing R&D consortia for path creation and extension: The case of semiconductor manufacturing technologies.” Organization Studies, 33 (7), 907–936.
  • Sydow, J., Schreyögg, G., & Koch, J. (2009): “Organizational path dependence: Opening the black box.” Academy of Management Review, 34 (4), 689–709.
  • Wegener, F.E., Guerreiro Goncalves, M., & Dankfort, Z. (2019): “Reflection-in-action when designing organizational processes: Prototyping workshops for collective reflection-in-action.” Proceedings of the Design Society: International Conference on Engineering Design, 1 (1), 1255–1264.
  • Whittington, R. (2017): “Strategy as practice, process and institution: Converging on activity.” In: A. Langley & H. Tsoukas (eds.): The SAGE Handbook of Process Organization Studies. London: SAGE Publications, 387–401.
Fleur Deken is Associate Professor at the KIN Center for Digital Innovation at the School of Business and Economics, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands. She takes a practice-based approach for studying routines and complex collaboration processes in the context of innovation. Currently, Fleur studies the role of experimentation and iterations in innovation routines. Her work has been published in journals including ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Organization Science’, and ‘Strategic Organization’.
Brian T. Pentland is the Main Street Capital Partners Endowed Professor in the Department of Accounting and Information Systems at Michigan State University, USA. His research is focused on the analysis of repetitive patterns of action, such as organizational routines. Brian’s creative work has appeared in ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Accounting, Organizations and Society’, ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, ‘JAIS’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, ‘Management Science’, ‘MIS Quarterly’, ‘Organization Science’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘YouTube’, and elsewhere.
Jörg Sydow is Professor of Management and holds the Chair for Inter-firm Cooperation at the School of Business & Economics at Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. His recent research focuses on interorganizational relations, temporary organizing, creativity and innovation, practice-based theory and industrial relations. Jörg is or was a member of the editorial boards of ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, and ‘The Scandinavian Journal of Management’.
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