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8. Organizational Structure and Learning (John Joseph)

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

By John Joseph - UC Irvine

Prerecorded session

Live session


A central question in the literature is how does the organizational structure impact organizational learning and decision making (i.e., through what mechanisms)? Organizational structure was central to the foundational work (Simon, 1947; March and Simon, 1958), but only recently has organizational structure (and organization design more generally) re-entered the research agenda of BToF scholars. This session will examine this question and, using a focus on empirical work, attempt to unpack the features of formal organizational structure which can affect learning, search and adaptation.

Required readings

Joseph, J., & Gaba, V. (2020). Organizational structure, information processing, and decision-making: A retrospective and road map for research. Academy of Management Annals, 14(1), 267-302.

Joseph, J. Rhee, L. and Wilson, A. Corporate Hierarchy and Organizational Learning: Member Turnover, Code Change, and Innovation in the Multiunit Firm. Organization Science (cond’l accept)

Joseph, J. Klingebiel, R. and Wilson, A. 2016. Organizational Structure and Performance Feedback: Centralization, Aspirations and Termination Decisions, Organization Science, 27 (5): 1065–1083

Recommended readings

Simon, H. Administrative Behavior, 1997. The Free Press. New York, NY. especially: Chapter 1, pages 1-15, Commentary on Chapter V, pages 118-129, Commentary on Chapter VIII, pages 223-249 (recommended)

Joseph, J and Sengul, M. The Theory of Organization Design: The Foundations for Future Research, Working Paper (optional)

Discussion questions

  1. ​​How can we bridge the “aggregation” vs. “constraint” approaches of information processing in the context of organizational learning? What theories can we bring together? How can we do this empirically? What might we learn about learning in doing so?

  2. Studies have begun to recognize that learning varies across different hierarchical levels of the organization. However, we know little of how and why learning differs. What might be the source of this variation? What is the role of hierarchy and decomposability in learning and especially for top down (cognitive) and bottom up (experiential) search and adaptation?

  3. What are the best research designs for testing hypotheses featuring organizational structure? What can be done about problems of identification and validity in studies of structure and learning? How can we apply these insights to the study of flat organizations, online communities or other emergent structures?

Group members

Faculty advisors


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