A complex adaptive systems view of resilience in project teams

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Contributors

Ali Harrak

Author: Mary C. Edson

Title: A complex adaptive systems view of resilience in project teams

Year of Publication: 2012

Journal: Systems Research and Behavioral Science

Volume: 29 Issue: 5

Source: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/sres.2153/full

Keywords: adaptive cycle, resilience, innovation, team, adaptation


Abstract

By applying a complex adaptive systems perspective, this case study research project team resilience through analysis of group development and panarchy. Three research questions focused on a team’s consciousness of a need to change under adversity, its response through adaptive action, and its potential for innovation through creative destruction. The subject team consisted of almost 200 students, building a solar house over a 2-year period in an international competition sponsored by the US Department of Energy. The goal of this research study was to develop an understanding of how project teams renegotiate group norms to adapt to new environmental constraints. The data collected from this study provided the basis of comparison to track the project teams experience against group development models, an ecological adaptation model, and complex adaptive systems theory and provided evidence of the team’s experience of creativity in which innovation substituted processes that no longer serve the goals and objectives of the project team. The reason this study focuses on project teams is that there was a sense that project teams are an untapped resource for adaptive learning in organizations. All in all, this research confirmed that the development of project managers is a potential leverage point for transformative change in organizations seeking leadership and organizational resilience.

Reflection

The article of Edson (2012) explored a gap in our understanding of expected group development under normal circumstances with that of group development under stress. This is done by using a complex adaptive systems perspective, which is used in ecological systems. Clearly, this article relates to the adaptive cycle of change. A comparison between existing models of group development and a model of complex adaptive cycles was explored and discussed to gain deeper understanding about the processes of organizational resilience. Comparing this article with the past lectures, we can clearly see a strong similarity comprehending the concept behind the adaptive cycle. First of all, the purpose of the research was to discover how project teams adapt to adversity and develop resilience. This matter was explained through the different phases of the adaptive cycle. Like mentioned in the lectures, the project group goes through four phases; exploitation (r) conservation (K) release (omega) and reorganization (alpha).

Secondly, the research confirmed that the development of project managers is a potential leverage point for transformative change in organizations seeking leadership and organizational resilience. This outcome is particularly interesting due to the different roles managers can have during the phases of the cycle. Abcouwer & Parson (2011) stated that: ‘’Good management itself is in fact one of the fundamental reasons organizations getting into a crisis. Playing the game according to that is expected of the manager is the reason why the disruptive development goes unnoticed. Holding on to what is existing, results in hindering the change to what is new.’’ Hence, the adaptability of certainly the project manager plays a crucial role for the ultimate success of the team. One of the themes for the upcoming lectures will be risk, decision-making and rationality. Thus, it will be interesting to see how(project) managers will approach decision-making under the influence of rationality and resilience.

Finally, this research contributes a deeper understanding of project team resilience in organizational systems such as companies, non-profits, governmental, and non-governmental entities by revealing the importance of building adaptive capacity through organizational learning. I was pleased to learn that the case study was retrospective and revelatory. Thereby being reflective on past events and providing insights from reflection and analysis. Due to this article and the past lectures I can identify how a team in crisis can be better understood by using the adaptive cycle of change.


Abcouwer, A. W., & Parson, B. 2011. Sustainable assertiveness: the adaptive cycle of resilience. [Working paper]. Amsterdam.

Contributors

Ali Harrak