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A complexity perspective on organisational change: making sense of emerging patterns in self-organising systems

Varney, S. (2013) A complexity perspective on organisational change: making sense of emerging patterns in self-organising systems. DBA thesis, Henley Business School, University of Reading

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This thesis adopts a complexity perspective to further understanding of organisational change and its leadership. It uses complexity to reframe organisational change as self-organising; a continuous process with emergent outcomes. Then it considers individual potency of reflexive agents within self-organising change, by asking what emerging organisational patterns change leaders notice, interpret and respond to as they pursue change in organisations. That question is explored within a longitudinal, multi-level, largely qualitative, case study. The study focuses deeply on an organisation in the midst of change from the perspective of change leaders. Multiple data sources are used: in-depth interviews; observation; documents; a workshop; and a social networks/change leader survey. Within an inductive analytic strategy, the study employs a combination of analytic procedures to make sense of rich, eclectic, case data. It takes an interpretive epistemological stance, while retaining the realist ontological thread of a complex reality. The research findings highlight the challenges facing change leaders trying to make sense of emerging patterns, in far-from-equilibrium conditions, when they too are ‘on the receiving end’ of change. The findings illustrate that change leaders notice and interpret emerging organisational patterns in particular spheres of human activity: patterns of events; ‘changing patterns of relations’; and ‘changing patterns of attention’. Multi-level triangulation highlights fractal self-similarity in the patterning of emergent responses across levels: responses of individual change leaders and organisational response patterns across a population of interdependent people can both be categorised in affective, cognitive and behavioural terms. The major contributions of this study are (1) its identification of domains of emergent organisational change; and (2) its development of a multi-level typology of domains of emergent change. While organisational change outcomes are emergent and inherently unpredictable, these findings may help scholars and practitioners to theoretically anticipate and make sense of emerging organisational patterns.

Item Type:Thesis (DBA)
Thesis Supervisor:Burgoyne, J. G. and Vogel, B.
Thesis/Report Department:Henley Business School
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Henley Business School
ID Code:86008


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