Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Everyone working in organizations will, from time to time, experience frustrations and problems when trying to accomplish tasks that are a required part of their role. In such cases it is normal for people to find ways of completing their work in such a way that hey can get around, or just simply avoid, the procedure or system that has caused the problem. This is an unusual routine – a recurrent interaction pattern in which someone encounters a problem when trying to accomplish normal activities by following standard organizational procedures and then becomes enmeshed in wasteful and even harmful subroutines while trying to resolve the initial problem. Using a wide range of case studies and interdisciplinary research, this book gives researchers and practitioners invaluable information on the nature of this pervasive organizational phenomenon and shows how they can be dealt with in order to improve organizational performance.

This chapter and Chapter 6 describe how each of five propositions played out in a lengthy field study at an educational institution (Cooper, 2000), based upon our working model of unusual routines introduced in the preceding chapter. While the initial intent was to focus on the effects the implementation of a computer-mediated communication system (one kind of ICT) might have on URs, the early data collection suggested that the study would provide broader insights into UR dynamics in decision processes and operations. The study utilized depth interviews with a stratified purposive sample of organization members, and such qualitative methodology often does lead to pleasant surprises in the knowledge the study generates. That is to say, the study convinced us that the model had broader application than to ICTs alone, and had particular analytical value in understanding the relationship between problematic routine behaviors and organizational culture. It is important to emphasize that in no way was this intended as an assessment or critique of communication at the site! Indeed, we expect that the URs and interaction scripts surfaced in the study may be all too familiar to our colleagues at other institutions.


This is chapter 5 from the monograph by Rice, R. E., & Cooper, S. D. (2010). Organizations and unusual routines: A systems analysis of dysfunctional feedback processes. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Copyright © Ronald E. Rice and Stephen D. Cooper 2010. No reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. Available from Cambridge University Press at