The bottom-up agency in driving institutional change - A case study in a corporate environment

Timo Punkka

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


Agile development methods have moved into the mainstream. Agile development relies on short iterations and continuous adaptation to changing conditions. However, to fully benefit from these rapid development cycles, the rest of the organization should be aligned with this manner of thinking. Unfortunately, scaling agile thinking has been identified as challenging, particularly regarding how this magnitude of change can be driven in a bottom-up approach. This research concentrates on organizational change and specifically on how an individual bottom-up agency can initiate and drive even institutional change. The research utilized an abductive approach and continuously combined existing theories with empirical findings. The research consisted of three individual studies: The first study concentrated on the theoretical feasibility of utilizing the team-based organization model as an approach to help agile thinking unfold in an organization. For the second study, two-year action research was conducted to empirically test the approach in the case organization. The final study aimed at understanding the bottom-up transformation in retrospect. The data for the first and third study consists primarily of interviews utilizing different techniques. For the action research, the primary data-gathering methods consisted of various information systems of the case organization, workshop and meeting memos, and author's notes from direct and participatory observation. During the research, the author conducted a total of 18 individual interviews and one focus group interview. Based on the findings, this research states that it is possible to initiate a change of this magnitude through an individual bottom-up agency. The success of such an endeavor depends on finding solutions to organizational boundaries. The key differentiator in large-scale bottom-up transformation and its success concerns whether the actors can find ways to understand the constellation of institutional logics at play in different parts of the organization and can re-form the suggested change in order to legitimize the new state of affairs. Legitimization, in turn, is a pre-condition for institutional change. The main contribution of this research comprises a three-layer model for bottom-up institutional change. The findings strengthen the potential of using institutional logics as a theory for efforts to accelerate organizational change. In addition, this research provides empirical evidence for one possible route for unfolding agile thinking at the organizational level.
Translated title of the contributionAlhaalta ylöspäin suuntautuva toimijuus institutionaalisen muutoksen liikkeellepanevana voimana: Tapaustutkimus suuressa organisaatiossa
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Rajala, Risto, Supervising Professor
  • Vartiainen, Matti, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-64-0317-5
Electronic ISBNs978-952-64-0318-2
Publication statusPublished - 2021
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • agile development
  • team-based organization
  • holacracy
  • organizational change
  • organizational development
  • bottom-up change
  • organizational structure
  • institutional theory
  • institutional logics


Dive into the research topics of 'The bottom-up agency in driving institutional change - A case study in a corporate environment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this