The Coupling Relationship between Internal Work Processes and Symbolic Displays within an Institutionalized Organization
Posted: 13 Jan 1998
Date Written: September 1997
Two key properties of organizations have long been widely recognized and studied: the technical processes by which organizational work processes are carried out, and the symbolic display of formal structure as a strategy for gaining legitimacy with external constituents. For example, it has been proposed that these two properties are "decoupled" from one another to permit effective organizational functioning. It has also been proposed that they are "loosely coupled" with one another. Nevertheless, we still have relatively little understanding of how these two properties relate to one another. The study reported in this article draws upon three theoretical perspectives - the sociology of professions, institutional theory and loose coupling - and empirically examines the nature of the relationship between the technical processes by which organizational members are coordinated and controlled, and the manner in which an organization symbolically demonstrates its commitment to a rational course of action. To evaluate these research issues, we administered a test instrument to ninety-six audit teams in the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO). Statistical results obtained using the Linear Structural Relations Model (LISREL) suggest that the symbolic display of formal structure is loosely coupled with the process by which audit team members are coordinated and controlled. It also appears that such symbolic displays complexity shape what audit team members come to accept as the GAO's reality.
JEL Classification: D23, M49
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation