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Change in Tightly Coupled Systems: The Role and Actions of Middle Managers

Research in Organizational Change and Development

ISBN: 978-1-83909-084-4, eISBN: 978-1-83909-083-7

Publication date: 31 July 2020


The literature on organizational change has long acknowledged the need to balance stability and economic efficiency with the need to be flexible and to change. Authors, certainly in the dynamic capabilities tradition but also in other perspectives, have stressed the importance of more open and loosely coupled systems to promote adaption. However, many organizations do not operate on such premises but rather rely on creating efficient business units through tight coupling, building strict social and administrative control, and jointly relying on common systems. In this study, we conduct 46 interviews with employees from three different retail organizations to investigate how units in such tightly coupled systems change within the framework of the set standards. Through contrasting the characteristics of high and low functioning units, we identify three mechanisms that seem to enable the units to successfully and repeatedly realign and establish new configurations. We conclude that the orchestrator of all three realignment mechanisms is the middle manager, and we discuss the middle manager's role and the different activities that enable a successful realignment.



Berggren, R., Pregmark, J.E., Fredberg, T. and Frössevi, B. (2020), "Change in Tightly Coupled Systems: The Role and Actions of Middle Managers", Noumair, D.A. and (Rami) Shani, A.B. (Ed.) Research in Organizational Change and Development (Research in Organizational Change and Development, Vol. 28), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 183-209.



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