Surviving Chaos in Organizations

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Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date. For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now. Javascript is not enabled in your browser. Enabling JavaScript in your browser will allow you to experience all the features of our site. Learn how to enable JavaScript on your browser. NOOK Book. Laurie L. She is currently a doctoral learner pursuing her Ph.

Council Post: Seven Ways To Prevent The Dangers Of Organizational Chaos

D in management. Her favorite subjects include change management and employee motivation. Today, Laurie consults and teaches undergraduate management and psychology courses. See All Customer Reviews. Shop Books. Read an excerpt of this book! But chaotic movement does possess finite boundaries, within which is the capacity for infinite possibility.

A Hostile Environment

Even lacking direction, parts of a system can combine so that the system generates multiple configurations of itself, displaying "order without predictability. By the early s, evidence accumulated that chaos theory was a real phenomenon. One of the first frequently-cited examples is a dripping water faucet. At times, water drops from a leaky faucet exhibit chaotic behavior the water does not drip at a constant or orderly rate , eliminating the possibility of accurately predicting the timing of those drops.

More recently, the orbit of Pluto was shown to be chaotic. Scientists took advantage of applications using chaos to their benefit; chaos-aware control techniques could be used to stabilize lasers and heart rhythms, among multiple other uses. Another arena within which chaos theory is useful is that of organizations. Applying chaos theory to organizational behavior allows theorists to take a step back from the management of day-to-day activities and see how organizations function as unified systems.

An organization is a classic example of a nonlinear system i. In order to exploit the chaotic quality of an organization, one needs to try to see the organizational shape that emerges from a distance. Instead of pinpointing causes in the organization for organizational problems, the company is better served, according to chaos theory, by looking for organizational patterns that lead to certain types of behavior within the organization. Organizational expectations for acceptable behavior, and the degree of freedom with which individuals are allowed to work, shape the way a company's problems and challenges are handled by its members.

By allowing people and groups within an organization some autonomy, businesses encourage the organization to organize itself, enacting multiple iterations of its own functioning until the various pieces of the organization can work together most effectively. An organization that encourages this type of management has been termed a fractal organization, one that trusts in natural organizational phenomena to order itself.

However, applying chaos theory to organizational practice tends to go against the grain of most formal management patterns.

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Order can be confused with the more popular notion of control. Defined by organization charts and job descriptions, traditional management does not generally seek to add disorder to its strategic plan. As Wheatley states, "It is hard to open ourselves up to a world of inherentorderliness. Charts are drawn to illustrate who is accountable to whom or who plays what role and when.

Business experts break down organizations into the smallest of parts. They build models of organizational practice and policy with hope that this atomizing yields better information on how to improve the organization's functioning. However, chaos theory implies that this is unnecessary, even harmful. Self-organizing systems are those enabled to grow and evolve with free will.

As long as each part of the system remains consistent with itself and the systems's past; these systems can harness the power of creativity, evolution, and free will—all within the boundaries of the organization's overall vision and culture. In this respect, chaos theory shows the need for effective leadership, a guiding vision, strong values, organizational beliefs, and open communication. During the s, chaos theory did begin to change decision-making processes in business. A good example is the evolution of high-functioning teams.

Members of effective teams frequently recreate the role each member plays, depending on the needs of the team at a given point. Though not always the formally-designated manager, informal leaders emerge in an organization not because they have been given control, but because they have a strong sense of how to address the needs of the group and its members.

Surviving the Chaos of Change

The most successful leaders understand that it is not the organization or the individual who is most important, but the relationship between the two. And that relationship is in constant change. One of the most influential business writers of the s and s, Tom Peters b. Peters offers a strategy to help corporations deal with the uncertainty of competitive markets through customer responsiveness, fast-paced innovation, empowering personnel, and most importantly, learning to work within an environment of change.

In fact, Peters asserts that we live in "a world turned upside down," and survival depends on embracing "revolution. As the global economy and technology continue to change the way business is conducted on a daily basis, evidence of chaos is clearly visible. While businesses could once succeed as "non-adaptive," controlling institutions with permanently-installed hierarchical structures, modern corporations must be able to restructure as markets expand and technology evolves.

According to Peters, "To meet the demands of the fast-changing competitive scene, we must simply learn to love change as much as we have hated it in the past. Organizational theorist Karl Weick b. However, as Wheatley states in her book:. Organizations lack this kind of faith, faith that they can accomplish their purposes in various ways and that they do best when they focus on direction and vision, letting transient forms emerge and disappear.

We seem fixated on structures…and organizations, or we who create them, survive only because we build crafty and smart—smart enough to defend ourselves from the natural forces of destruction. No matter what chaos system will be examined, the graph depicts the distribution will look the same. Understanding Universalities help to understand how order turn into chaos and what are the indications that chaos is taking place. Chaos is not necessarily negative. You can take advantage of it to reinforce a positive trend and changes in the organization.

I saw more than once that the rules that turn order into chase can be reversed to turn chaos to order. Personally, I believe that an organization that finds how to switch between order and chaos generates a lot of energy to be far away from equilibrium and to be very creative. Fractals: Fractals are simple structures that by following simple rules create complex systems.


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Fractals are all around us! Snow flecks, trees, and leaves are a few examples. Organizations are fractals as well, not hierarchies.

Are You Living in a World of Chaos?

Well, they are hierarchies because someone creates them as hierarchies, but people are grouping in social systems following fractals and organization are first of all fractals! If we add to the containing structure of fractals ranks and authority, we will end with hierarchies. Organizations can operate as fractals, the same way our brain works! That is the way that very successful organizations for a long time are working. By the way, the market or cities are good examples.