Decoupling (organizational studies)

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In organizational studies, and particularly new institutional theory, decoupling is the creation and maintenance of gaps between formal policies and actual organizational practices.[1] Organizational researchers have documented decoupling in a variety of organizations, including schools,[2][3] corporations,[4] government agencies,[5] and social movement organizations.[6] Scholars have proposed a number of explanations for why organizations engage in decoupling. Some researchers have argued that decoupling enables organizations to gain legitimacy with their external members while simultaneously maintaining internal flexibility to address practical considerations.[1] Other scholars have noted that decoupling may occur because it serves the interests of powerful organizational leaders,[4] or because it allows organizational decision-makers to avoid implementing policies that conflict with their ideological beliefs.[5] Recent research has also identified the reverse of decoupling: recoupling,[5][7] the process whereby "policies and practices that were once decoupled may eventually become coupled."[8]


  1. ^ a b Meyer, John W., and Brian Rowan. 1977. "Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony," American Journal of Sociology, 83: 340-63.
  2. ^ Meyer, John W., and Brian Rowan. 1978. "The Structure of Educational Organizations." In M. W. Meyer (ed.), Environments and Organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
  3. ^ Delucchi, Michael. 2000. "Staking a Claim: The Decoupling of Liberal Arts Mission Statements from Baccalaureate Degrees Awarded in Higher Education. Sociological Inquiry. 70: 157-71.
  4. ^ a b Westphal, James D., and Edward Zajac. 2001. "Explaining Institutional Decoupling: The Case of Stock Repurchase Programs." Administrative Science Quarterly, 46: 202-28.
  5. ^ a b c Tilcsik, András. “From Ritual to Reality: Demography, Ideology, and Decoupling in a Post- Communist Government Agency,” Academy of Management Journal, 53:6 (December 2010): 1474-1498.
  6. ^ Elsbach, Kimberly D., and Robert Sutton. 1992. "Acquiring Organizational Legitimacy through Illegitimate Actions: A Marriage of Institutional and Impression Management Theories." Academy of Management Journal, 35: 699-738.
  7. ^ Hallett, Tim. 2010. “The Myth Incarnate: Recoupling Processes, Turmoil, and Inhabited Institutions in an Urban Elementary School.” "American Sociological Review." 75, 1: 52-74.
  8. ^ Tilcsik, András. “From Ritual to Reality: Demography, Ideology, and Decoupling in a Post-Communist Government Agency,” Academy of Management Journal, 53:6 (December 2010): 1474-1498, p. 1475.