In organizations, de-coupling refers to a separation of causal connection between two organizational elements. It implies a weakening of interdependence and control between groups (Weick, 1976). De-coupled elements share fewer activities. One de-coupled element can be eliminated or replaced without severely affecting the other element (p. 3).
De-coupling has been used extensively in open systems theory, gaining prominence through Weick and extended by institutional theorists like Meyer and Rowan. They maintain that organizations in institutional environments often de-couple formal structures from their technical core to maintain external legitimacy and still retain organizational effectiveness (Meyer and Rowan, 1977).
For example, in the 1980's many companies created "quality departments" to maintain external legitimacy as quality management techniques gained popularity. Top management often de-coupled these programs from the formal hierarchy to minimize their potential disruption to effective "status quo" behavior. As a result, quality departments often built extensive quality programs that helped external relations but were only marginally implemented by the rest of the corporation.