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Enabling control in a radically decentralized organization

Winnie O’Grady (Business School, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand)

Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management

ISSN: 1176-6093

Article publication date: 10 May 2019

Issue publication date: 16 August 2019




This paper aims to consider the enabling and coercive features of formal control in non-hierarchical settings and the factors influencing perceptions of controls.


This paper is a qualitative case study of a single organization. Data are collected via semi-structured interviews, a range of published materials and a management presentation. Analysis considered the features of coercive and enabling control at the level of individual controls.


In this highly decentralized organization, internal and global transparency predominate and help managers respond to contingencies in flexible ways. Managers cannot repair certain elements of controls to ensure there is stability in an otherwise flexible system. The existence (absence) of enabling features combined with the type of controls (e.g. action or results controls) lacking enabling features influence managers’ perceptions of control.

Research limitations/implications

Few studies have considered formal controls in non-hierarchical organizations. The findings reveal the importance of minimally coercive control features in creating a stable structure for controlling performance. The findings may not be relevant to other hierarchical organizations.


The study is conducted in a highly decentralized context where managers have extensive autonomy (flexibility). The context allows the role of minimally coercive control features to be explored in an essentially enabling organizational setting.



The author gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments received on earlier versions of this paper from two anonymous reviewers, participants of the 2018 EAA and AFAANZ conferences, and attendees at a seminar hosted by Kyoto University. The author highly appreciate the specific suggestions made by Professor Anne Lillis and the awesome feedback provided by Associate Professor Sophie Tessier and Professor Eric Strauss.


O’Grady, W. (2019), "Enabling control in a radically decentralized organization", Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, Vol. 16 No. 2, pp. 224-251.



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