Sub-theme 20: Dealing with Organizational Anomalies in Challenging Times ---> MERGED with sub-theme 16


Call for Papers

In January 2020, societies and organizations started dealing with Covid-19 as a worldwide anomaly. Some of them tended to understate its impact, keeping practices unchanged. Others embraced the anomaly, enacted plans, generated additional anomalies but adapted. An anomaly is “something different, abnormal and peculiar, or not easily classified” (Merriam-Webster). Anomalies embody imperfection: They refer to phenomena, practices, behaviors and actions that thwart organizations’ plans, norms, ideals and procedures and contradict overall expectations.
Organizational anomalies can take the form of seemingly absurd or deviant decisions (Vaughan, 2004), disobedient or counter-productive behaviors (Giustiniano et al., 2016), surprising injunctions (Weick, 1993) and failed expectations (Wilemon & Cicero, 1970). In these cases, anomalies bear a negative connotation as they endanger common grounds (Priem & Nystrom, 2011), collective action and organizational legitimacy (Giustiniano et al., 2016). Moreover, they can generate contradictions between local initiatives and organizational structures.
However, anomalies are inherent to organizational functioning (Benson, 1977). Anomalies stem from organizational imagination (March, 1981) and diversity (Parthiban et al., 2020). They embody local and creative response to challenging environments when routines fail at addressing them (March, 1981). From this perspective, organizations can benefit from anomalies, which can bolster innovative and mindful interactions, especially in challenging settings (Hutchins, 1991). In the long run, anomalies can trigger new strategic avenues (Chia & MacKay, 2007).
No surprise that organization scholars have investigated anomalies through many related concepts, such as coping, improvization, organizational deviance, emergence, and even foolishness. Organizations have developed capabilities to normalize anomalies (Vaughan, 2004), transform them into opportunities for learning (Ciborra, 2002), institutional change (Malaurent & Karanasios, 2020) or even strategy emergence (Pina e Cunha & Da Cunha, 2003), even in highly demanding sectors such Haute Cuisine (Bouty et al., 2019), army (Hundman & Parkinson, 2019). However, organizations should prepare for a rise of anomalies: disruptions will become more frequent, creating more opportunities for gaps between expected and actual patterns of action (La Porte, 2018). Hence, institutions and organizations will have less time to rebuild from multiple concurrent extreme events.
Conversely, some organizations search for process agility and reliability by minimizing anomalies. Challenging environments, media exposure and institutional pressure have led organizations to increase efforts for normalization rather than cultivating anomalies (Panayiotou et al., 2019). Technologies that detect anomalies pose the challenge of their definition (Patcha & Park, 2007) and could lead organizations to approach them as problems to mitigate rather than avenues for improvement.
This sub-theme therefore proposes to explore how organizations, in challenging times, find balance between minimizing anomalies and transforming them into valuable opportunities. It aims at bridging scholar communities that work on concepts related to anomalies in organizations from various epistemological and theoretical perspectives (process, practice, institutional theories, or interactional, cognitive perspectives etc.). Our aim is to collaboratively discuss actual and future challenges related to anomalies, in particular (but not exclusively):

  • Interplay between anomalies and organizational structures;

  • Interplay and balance between minimization of anomalies and their cultivation;

  • Multi-level analysis of anomalies and new theoretical perspectives on anomalies;

  • Epistemological and ontological challenges posed in studying anomalies;

  • Collective sensemaking of anomalies;

  • Anomalies as emergence, new practices or organizational transformation;

  • Organizational reframing of anomalies as opportunities for learning and change;

  • Anomalies through organizational discourse, in institutional logics and work;

  • Organizational crisis generated by organizational anomalies;

  • How organizations absorb anomalies under time constraints and emotional pressure.


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