Paradigm Shifts in Coordination Theory

Posted: 25 Feb 2009

See all articles by P. C. van Fenema

P. C. van Fenema

Netherlands Defence Academy

Kuldeep Kumar

Florida International University (FIU) - Department of Decision Sciences & Information Systems

Brian Pentland

Michigan State University - Department of Accounting & Information Systems

Date Written: February 25, 2009

Abstract

Coordination - commonly defined as the achievement of concerted action - has been a phenomenon of central concern to organizational theorizing since the 1920s. Until the 1980s, information processing and contingency theorists have shaped coordination theory around the relationship between coordination mechanisms and drivers like task dependence, uncertainty, and equivocality. Recently, conceptual and empirical papers have emerged that offer new insights in coordination, emphasizing structures, processes and knowledge. As a field, however, coordination theory currently lacks coherence and focus. We suggest that paradigm shifts have occurred that have remained largely unknown and unaddressed. This unawareness constrains theoretical discussion and progress. A paradigm is a set of ontological and epistemological assumptions that drives theory development and ultimately empirical research. According to Kuhn (1962), discussion on a paradigmatic level is needed when theory development stagnates. The objective of this conceptual paper is to formulate and compare paradigms underpinning coordination theory. The paper distinguishes three paradigms: contingency, structure-process, and inner-outer worlds. These paradigms are tied to literature, and each applied to the same example from a sports context. Analysis of the example fosters comparison and reveals the three unique perspectives on how individuals function in a collaborative setting, and how coordination is achieved. Each paradigm contributes differently to coordination theory, and has its own strong and weak points. The paper suggests that shifting the debate on coordination theory to a paradigmatic level offers new potential for a field that is of great importance to organization theory and practice.

Keywords: Coordination, alignment of action, paradigm shift

Suggested Citation

van Fenema, Paul C. and Kumar, Kuldeep and Pentland, Brian, Paradigm Shifts in Coordination Theory (February 25, 2009). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1349026

Paul C. Van Fenema (Contact Author)

Netherlands Defence Academy

PO Box 90002
Breda, 4800
Netherlands

HOME PAGE: http://www.nlda.nl, www.paulcvanfenema.com

Kuldeep Kumar

Florida International University (FIU) - Department of Decision Sciences & Information Systems ( email )

University Park
BA 250
Miami, FL 33199
United States

Brian Pentland

Michigan State University - Department of Accounting & Information Systems ( email )

270 North Business Complex
East Lansing, MI 48824-1034
United States

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