Complex Adaptive System (CAS) and Leadership in Organizational Change

Organizational change affects every single unit of the organization and its stakeholders including business partners, chain suppliers, and local communities.   As per perspective of the complex adaptive system (CAS) involved in organizational change, small change can lead to large.  In this sense, the agent referred in the CAS is the person that each involved in and affected by the change within the organization.  Regarding organizational change, part of the process and constantly interact with each other include innovative strategy, learning process, leadership, and followership.

According to Harkema (2003), CAS holds significant characteristics such as nonlinear, emergence, dynamic behavior, and self-organization.   Therefore, CAS in organizational change embraced of stakeholders who will explore change, experiment it, organize themselves, go through a learn process, and adapt change (Carlisle & McMillan, 2006).  CAS helps individual, group, business unit, and organization adapt to new environmental circumstances.  Certainly, small change can lead to large.  However, if individual in an organization is not ready for change, small change can become chaos.  If every individual (agent) is ready for an effective adoption of CAS in organizational change, small change can be replicated to large. 

Effectiveness of the change depends on the interaction between agents, however, in the learning, experiment, explore, and adaptation processes.  Plowman et al. (2007) suggested that because any action has an amplifying affect, small change is more likely amplified by other actions and resulted in unintended radical change in an organization, which is not stable.  The question remains for an effective change in an organization is about leadership.

Plowman et al. (2007), by a study of change in Mission Church, found that if the organization has a frequent turnover in leadership and the advent of a new leader styles contributed to the emergence of small change.   Therefore, the role of leadership is crucial in organizational change and innovation.  In this light, the leadership study focuses on the complexity leadership theory in which it investigates the role of leadership’s effectiveness in organizational change and innovation process (Lichtenstein et al., 2006).

Organizational change, CAS, and self-organization are related or closely interacted somehow.  Small change in an organization where the needs of survival emerge leads to a big change within the entity.  Today, because businesses are facing economic difficulties and strategic dynamics, change in an organization is required.  Nevertheless, small change or large change in an organization is a responsibility of true leaders for the organization to survive.  



Carlisle, Y., & McMillan, E. (2006). Innovation in organizations from a complex adaptive systems perspective. E:CO, 8(1), 2–9.

Harkema, S. (2003). A complex adaptive perspective on learning within innovation projects. The Learning Organization, 10(6), 340-346. doi 10.1108/09696470310497177.

Lichtenstein, B. B., Uhl-Bien, M., Marion, R., Seers, A., Orton, J. D., & Schreiber, C. (2006). Complexity leadership theory: An interactive perspective on leading in complex adaptive systems. E:CO, 8(4), 2–12.

Plowman, D. A., Baker, L. T., Beck, T. E., Kulkarni, M., Solansky, S. T., & Travis, D. V. (2007). Radical change accidentally: The emergence and amplification of small change. Academy of Management Journal, 50(3), 515–543.

About Phat Pham

I don't have money to share, but I do have a desire to transform our society, starting from the workplace and the local community I serve.
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2 Responses to Complex Adaptive System (CAS) and Leadership in Organizational Change

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  2. Phat Pham says:

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