A Taxonomy of Organizational Dependencies and Coordination Mechanisms

Publication Type:

Book Chapter


Organizing Business Knowledge: The MIT Process Handbook, MIT Press, p.85-108 (2003)






Interdependency and coordination have been perennial topics in organization studies. The two are related because coordination is seen as a response to problems caused by dependencies. Past studies, however, describe dependencies and coordination mechanisms only in general terms, without characterizing in detail differences between dependencies, the problems dependencies create or how the proposed coordination mechanisms address those problems. This vagueness makes it difficult or impossible to determine what alternative coordination mechanisms might be useful in a given circumstance or to directly translate these alternative designs into specifications of individual activities.

In this paper I develop a taxonomy of dependency types by considering possible combinations of activities using resources. The taxonomy includes task-resource dependencies and three types of task-task dependencies: shared resources, producer-consumer and common output. For each type of dependency, alternative coordination mechanisms are described. I conclude by discussing how the taxonomy helps to analyze organizational processes and suggest alternative processes.

Although you will perform with different ingredients for different dishes, the same general processes are repeated over and over again. As you enlarge your repertoire, you will find that the seemingly endless babble of recipes begins to fall rather neatly into groups of theme and variations...

--Child, Bertholle and Beck (1981, p. vii)


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