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Organizational routines and capabilities: Historical drift and a course-correction toward microfoundations


  • Felin, Teppo
  • Foss, Nicolai J.


Summary Organizational routines and capabilities have become key constructs in fields such as organization studies, strategic management, international business, and technology management, as well as certain parts of economics. We discuss the historical origins of the notion of routines and highlight some of the theoretical drift associated with the notion of routines over time. In particular, we note how recent routines-based work has unnecessarily moved the focus (1) from the individual to the collective level, (2) from intentional behavior to unintentional behavior, and (3) from the observable to the non-observable dimension. In parallel we also explicate the underlying theoretical problems of the concept of organizational routines (and associated constructs, such as capabilities); problems such as the lack of conceptual clarity on the origins of routines, and the more general need for microfoundations. We argue that the underlying, individual-level micro-components and interactional dynamics deserve more attention in extant work--calling in effect for a course-correction in work on organizational routines and capabilities. We highlight how an emphasis on (1) the origins of routines, (2) intentionality and exceptions, and (3) aggregation and emergence, provide opportunities to course-correct future research on organizational routines and capabilities.

Suggested Citation

  • Felin, Teppo & Foss, Nicolai J., 2009. "Organizational routines and capabilities: Historical drift and a course-correction toward microfoundations," Scandinavian Journal of Management, Elsevier, vol. 25(2), pages 157-167, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:scaman:v:25:y:2009:i:2:p:157-167

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    2. Gabriel Natividad & Evan Rawley, 2016. "Interdependence and Performance: A Natural Experiment in Firm Scope," Strategy Science, INFORMS, vol. 1(1), pages 12-31, March.
    3. repec:gam:joitmc:v:5:y:2018:i:1:p:1-:d:193655 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Burr, Wolfgang & Frohwein, Torsten, 2012. "Regelbrüche in Organisationen," Research Papers on Innovation, Services and Technology 1/2012, University of Stuttgart, Institute of Business Administration, Department I - Institute of Research & Development and Innovation Management.
    5. Muñoz, Félix & Encinar, María Isabel, 2011. "Agents intentionality, capabilities and the performance of Systems of Innovation," Working Papers in Economic Theory 2011/03, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain), Department of Economic Analysis (Economic Theory and Economic History).
    6. repec:spr:manint:v:55:y:2015:i:6:d:10.1007_s11575-015-0252-9 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. repec:eee:tefoso:v:120:y:2017:i:c:p:163-175 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Félix-Fernando Muñoz & María-Isabel Encinar, 2014. "Intentionality and the emergence of complexity: an analytical approach," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 24(2), pages 317-334, April.
    9. Esther Tippmann & Pamela Sharkey Scott & Vincent Mangematin, 2014. "Stimulating Knowledge Search Routines and Architecture Competences: The Role of Organizational Context and Middle Management," Grenoble Ecole de Management (Post-Print) hal-00864332, HAL.
    10. Nima Amiryany & Marleen Huysman & Ard-Pieter de Man & Myriam Cloodt, 2011. "Serial Acquirers’ Reconfiguration Capability: Moving Beyond Existing Knowledge Boundaries," Chapters,in: The Nature of the New Firm, chapter 6 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    11. repec:hal:gemwpa:hal-00864332 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Angwin, Duncan N. & Paroutis, Sotirios & Connell, Richard, 2015. "Why good things Don’t happen: the micro-foundations of routines in the M&A process," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 68(6), pages 1367-1381.
    13. Muñoz, Félix-Fernando & Encinar, María-Isabel & Cañibano, Carolina, 2011. "On the role of intentionality in evolutionary economic change," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 193-203, September.
    14. repec:bla:stratm:v:38:y:2017:i:10:p:2041-2060 is not listed on IDEAS


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