Chaos, Complexity, and Change Management

May 14th, 2015

Trainers are involved in the application of organization development solutions through their training programs. The following theories of Chaos and Complexity relate to organizational change.

Chaos theory assumes that order exists even when it’s not immediately apparent. Complexity theory is the study of complex systems, such as organizations. Just how do organizations adapt to their environments and cope with uncertainty?

As complex adaptive systems, organizations exhibit characteristics of chaos and complexity. The central premise of complexity theory when applied to organizations is order can emerge out of chaos.

One explanation of the difference between the two theories is the following:

  • Chaos is the study of how simple systems can generate complex behavior.
  • Complexity is the study of how complicated systems generate simple behavior.

The following are the characteristics of the chaos and complexity theories. There is no agreement as to which of these characteristics is most important.

  • The whole is more than the parts.
  • Patterns appear throughout the system.
  • Cause and effect is never simple.
  • History does and does not repeat itself.
  • Change comes from chaos.
  • The future can and cannot be predicted.

For organizations order can emerge out of chaos. Managers must develop a strong sense of vision in their employees and then get out of the way to allow them to determine courses of action themselves to achieve the vision.

The vision must be strategic and contain a clear sense of the overall mission of the organization versus stipulating specific paths. Given the tools, training, and freedom to chart their own paths employees will be able to choose the best course of action to reach the organization’s goals. Employees will adapt to changing situations and improve processes as they discover new and better ways of doing their jobs.

What examples have you seen in organizations where order has emerged from chaos?

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