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Organisations As Complex Adaptive Systems

There are several metaphors that have been used to describe the essence of organisations. One sees them as a structure for decision making in a hierarchical system of decision rights. Decisions are made at multiple levels and typically concern the points at which decisions must be made and the persons from whom information is needed. All this, in the efficient and effective pursuit of organisational goals.

Organisations can also be viewed as systems that comprise a number of interacting variables. The basic premise of this metaphor is that we cannot deal with problems in isolation, but consider their interactions within a unified whole.

Another more recent conceptualization is that of 'complex adaptive systems', especially in the modern context which places increasing demands on efficiency, flexibility and innovation all of which are key not only to competitiveness but a firm’s very survival. All organisations require a clearly formulated mission, delegation of responsibility and authority, diversity and competition, and ample opportunity for follow‐up and feedback. These go beyond fair policies, employee support through organizational resources etc, all of which are important yet clearly not enough. Complex adaptive systems recognise emergence, nonlinear networks, self-organization and adaptability: all hallmarks of what it takes to manage today's leading edge organizations.

More on what each of those terms entails in a future blog post.

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