Adaptive Structuration Theory (AST)

Within organizations and, more specifically, within teams in organizations, there has been little attention paid to artifacts and technologies that support team processes. Fiore and Wiltshire (2016) highlighted that “studies of technology, and the artifacts it helps teams produce, is under represented in the team cognition literature” (p. 2). However, the study of technology and how it supports teams, teamwork and taskwork, is also under represented in the literature – in my opinion.

To look at how technology can and should support teams, one could utilize adaptive structuration theory (AST). Adaptive structuration theory not only views the technology and how it is used in organizational and team settings, it also looks at how the technology was designed and how the technology is used and interpreted by the end user. There is often a difference in how the technology was designed and how the end users actually apply the technology. DeSanctis and Poole (1994) highlighted this point in the following:

There is a ‘duality’ of structure… whereby there is an interplay between the types of structures that are inherent to advanced technologies (and, hence, anticipated by designers and sponsors) and the structures that emerge in human action as people interact with these technologies. (p. 122)

Adaptive structuration theory involves both the structure of the technology and the social interactions while using the technology (DeSanctic & Poole, 1994). Technologies designed to support teams need to be designed to be used by individual members in team settings, benefitting both the team and the team members. Technologies designed for individuals may not be user-friendly when applied to a team setting. Likewise, technologies designed for organizations may not be suited for teams. This interaction between the technologies structure and design and the team’s requirements to complete their goals (teamwork and taskwork) may not be correctly aligned. Research in this area should not only identify these differences between the technology’s deficits when used in a team setting, but should provide recommendations on how to improve the tested technology for future revisions or designs of the technology.

One description/definition of AST is provided below:

AST posits that the way technology is adapted by an organization [or team] is determined by several interacting forces: the technology itself, the organization’s [team’s] environment, the perceived social/normative pressures, the task, and the way structures emerge and update throughout the appropriation process. (Ajjan, Kumar, Subramaniam, 2016, p. 844)

Structuration involves bringing structures (processes, resources, others) together in what is identified as ‘appropriation’ (Ajjan et al., 2016; DeSanctis & Poole, 1994). Appropriation relates to the decision processes, in the context of this post, team decision making processes. DeSanctis and Poole (1994) highlighted emerging sources as the technologies output, task output, and the organization environment outputs, representing performance measures.

There are other variations of AST in the literature along with a number of different studies conducted using AST. Some of these extra resources are provided in the Additional References list that follows.


Ajjan, H., Kumar, R. L., & Subramaniam, C. (2016). Information technology portfolio management implementation: A case study. Journal of Enterprise Information Management, 29, 841-859. doi:10.1108/JEIM-07-2015-0065

DeSanctis, G., & Poole, M. S. (1994). Capturing the complexity in advanced technology use: Adaptive structuration theory. Organization Science, 5, 121-147. doi:10.1287/orsc.5.2.121

Fiore, S. M., & Wiltshire, T. J. (2016). Technology as teammate: Examining the role of external cognition in support of team cognitive processes. Frontiers in Psychology, 7(1531), 17 pages. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01531

Additional References

Barley, S. R. (1986). Technology as an occasion for structuring: Evidence from observations of CT scanners and the social order of radiology departments. Administrative Science Quarterly, 31, 78. doi:10.2307/2392767

Dennis, A. R., George, J. F., Jessup, L. M., Nunamaker, J. F. Jr., & Vogel, D. R. (1988). Information technology to support electronic meetings. MIS Quarterly, 12(4), 591.

Gallupe, R. B., Desanctis, G., & Dickson, G. W. (1988). Computer-based support for group problem-finding: An experimental investigation. MIS Quarterly, 12(2), 277.

Giddens, A. (1979). Central problems in social theory: Action, structure and contradictions in social analysis. London, UK: Macmillan.

Orlikowski, W. J. (1992). The duality of technology: Rethinking the concept of technology in organizations. Organization Science, 3, 398-427. doi:10.1287/orsc.3.3.398

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