Sub-theme 60: Rethinking Responses to Institutional Complexity

Royston Greenwood
University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
Patrick A.M. Vermeulen
Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Charlene Zietsma
York University, Toronto, Canada

Call for Papers

Organizations face unprecedented levels of environmental turbulence, and boundaries between firms, industries, public and private lives are fading. In consequence, organizations are confronted with multiple prescriptions arising from divergent institutional logics (Kraatz & Block, 2008; Greenwood et al., 2011). Navigating these institutionally complex waters requires tradeoffs, negotiations (Zietsma & Lawrence, 2010) and the careful balancing of resources, interests and strategic responses in order to secure legitimacy from different sources and ensure organizational performance and survival.

This sub-theme, therefore, seeks to advance our understanding of how organizations experience and respond to the challenges of institutional complexity.

There are several possible avenues of exploration. One line of thought seeks to understand the "strategies" employed by organizations when faced with a multiplicity of logics (Pache & Santos, 2010; Kraatz & Block, 2008). Another focuses upon how multiple logics are reflected in organizational "structures" and "practices" – seeking to understand different types of "hybrid" organizations (e.g., Battilana & Dorado, 2010) and the extent to which hydrids are consciously designed or arise less deliberately from organizational routines and practices. A third focuses on cognitive aspects of institutional complexity – how decision makers notice, conceptualize and decide to respond to mixed institutional pressures and prescriptions (Thornton et al., 2012). Fourth, complexity can be explored at the level of the field to determine, for example, how competing logics interact and how they are shaped by collective agencies such as associations and the media.

Despite significant progress in the study of institutional complexity, significant questions remain for future research. These include, but are not limited to:

Organizational strategies:

  • How do organizations respond to multiple institutional logics?
  • Do different degrees and sources of institutional complexity lead to specific organizational responses? Under what conditions do organizations deploy multiple responses simultaneously?
  • How do complexity response strategies affect economic and social performance, and organizational survival?

Structures and practices reflecting multiple logics:

  • How are multiple logics reflected in the organizational structures and practices of "hybrid" organizations (e.g., Battilana & Dorado, 2010)?
  • How do leaders of hybrids balance competing logics within the organization?
  • What micro-practices do organizational actors use in their attempts to create, sustain or resist the hybridization of organizations?
  • How do hybrid organizations emerge and evolve, and how are they sustained? Are they designed, or the less deliberate outcome of practices and routines coping with everyday challenges.

Cognitive aspects of complexity:

  • How does managers' attention to different institutional demands vary?
  • How is institutional complexity experienced and accommodated, resolved, managed and challenged by decision makers in organizations?

Field level complexity:

  • How is complexity maintained at the field level (Zilber, 2011)?
  • Under what conditions does institutional complexity lead to conflict vs. co-existence within the field?
  • What is the role of collective actors, such as associations and the media, in shaping the form and experience of complexity.

We welcome empirical papers using a variety of methods to address these and related topics. We encourage submissions from doctoral students and established scholars interested in exploring new areas within the institutional complexity perspective.



Battilana, Julia & Silvia Dorado (2010): 'Building sustainable hybrid organizations: The case of commercial microfinance organizations.' Academy of Management Journal, 53 (6), pp. 1419–1440.
Greenwood, Royston, Mia Raynard, Farah Kodeih, Evelyn R. Micelotta & Michael Lounsbury (2011): 'Institutional complexity and organizational responses.' The Academy of Management Annals, 5 (1), pp. 317–371.
Kraatz, Matthew S. & Emily S. Block (2008): 'Organizational implications of institutional pluralism.' In: Royston Greenwood, Christine Oliver, Kerstin Sahlin-Andersson & Roy Suddaby (eds.): Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism. London: SAGE Publications, pp. 243–275.
Pache, Anne-Claire & Felipe Santos (2010): 'When worlds collide: The internal dynamics of organizational responses to conflicting institutional demands.' Academy of Management Review, 35 (3), pp. 455–476.
Thornton, Patricia H., William Ocasio & Michael Lounsbury (2012): The Institutional Logics Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Zietsma, Charlene & Thomas B. Lawrence (2010): 'Institutional work in the transformation of an organizational field: The interplay of boundary work and practice work.' Administrative Science Quarterly, 55 (2), pp. 189–221.
Zilber, Tammar B. (2011): 'Institutional multiplicity in practice: A tale of two high-tech conferences in Israel.' Organization Science, 22 (6), pp. 1539–1559.


Royston Greenwood is the Telus Chair of Strategic Management at the School of Business, University of Alberta, Canada. His research uses the institutional perspective to understand issues such as organizational design and change, governance structures, and (more recently) corporate corruption.
Patrick A.M. Vermeulen is Professor of Strategic Management and International Management at the Institute for Management Research at the Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. His research focuses on understanding heterogeneous organizational responses to institutional complexity.
Charlene Zietsma is Associate Professor and Ann Brown Chair of Organization Studies at Schulich School of Business, York University, Toronto, Canada. Her research focuses on actors' efforts and the field-level processes associated with changing institutions to create social and sustainable innovation.