Principles of Complex Adaptive Systems Theory in Clayton Country Library System

Subject: Organizational Management
Pages: 7
Words: 1944
Reading time:
8 min
Study level: PhD


This paper is aimed at showing how the principles of complex adaptive systems theory can be applied to the transformation of the Clayton Country Library System (CCLS). Furthermore, it is important to discuss how the method of appreciative inquiry can be used in this organizational setting. These findings are important for demonstrating the advantages and limitations of this theoretical framework which is based on the idea that complex adaptive systems such as public or private organizations can spontaneously adapt to the changes in an external environment (Tower, 2002, p. 1).

Overall, it is possible to say that the principles of CAS theory can be effectively translated into a set of practical guidelines which lay stress on such aspects as openness and encouragement of independent initiatives. They will be critical for the sustainable development of this library. In turn, the main challenge is related to the allocation of duties and the ability of leaders to share power (Doll, 2005, p. 3). These are the main issues that should be examined in greater detail.

The application of CAS principles

There are several important characteristics of complex adaptive systems (CAS). First, one should mention that CASs have the characteristics of both chaos and stability (Tower, 2002, p. 1; Doll, 2005, p. 3). Moreover, they tend to evolve to adjust to the changing environment (Tower, 2002, p. 1). Furthermore, CAS can respond to new external influences spontaneously (Olson & Eoyand, 2001, p. 2). It is important to mention that from a CAS perspective, the order is an emergent phenomenon, rather than a hierarchical one (Olson & Eoyand, 2001, p. 1). The agents that form complex adaptive systems create the patterns that eventually shape the properties of the entire system (Sharifian, 2011, p. 36). This is one of the main premises that can be singled out. This idea can be applied to various complex systems, including public or private organizations (Sharifian, 2011, p. 36).

In particular, these institutions tend to adjust to the emerging problems, even if the senior managers do not implement new policies (Knowles, 2001, p 112). In their turn, organizational leaders should pay more attention to the behaviour of employees, especially how they respond to possible challenges (Richardson, 2011, p. 120). In some cases, these reactions do not correspond to the rules, established in the organization (Richardson, 2011, p. 120). This principle implies that bureaucratic rules cannot be always efficient, since they cannot be relevant to diverse problems encountered by an organization almost daily. This issue is often overlooked by people who run public or governmental organizations. Therefore, the organizational change in CCLS can be achieved by providing more authority to the employees (Teegarden, Hinden, & Sturm, 2010, p. 37).

Thus, they need to minimize the impact of bureaucratic procedures. In this way, they can increase the flexibility of this organization. This argument should be taken into account by the board of trustees who act as the main decision-makers. In contrast, the employees are supposed to follow the established routine. Moreover, they are not encouraged to take independent initiatives to address the concerns of readers who may want to use the services of CCLS. This is one of the main problems that should be addressed. This is why this approach can benefit CCLS in which bureaucratic procedures hinder the performance of this organization.

Furthermore, the employees should have more opportunities for addressing different problems without having to ask the permission of people who occupy a higher position in the workplace hierarchy (Uhl-Bien, 2008, p. 19). This is one of the approaches that can be adopted. Thus, one can say that the principles of complex adaptive systems can apply to the needs of CCLS that currently passes through a period of stagnation. Thus, one should find ways of overcoming this problem without harming the interests of users. These are some of the main details that can be distinguished.

Apart from that, it is possible to mention the premise according to which change usually “occurs at the micro level” (Olson & Eoyand, 2001, p. 2). However, they can reach the so-called bifurcation point at the time when the profound transformation of a system becomes irreversible (Yang, 2008, p. 93). In the long term, these minor changes affect the functioning of the entire organization (Yang, 2008, p. 93). This trend can be observed in public and private organizations. This principle can be applied to the implementation of change. For instance, improvements in the organizations can be attributed to small experiments and independent initiatives (Olson & Eoyand, 2001, p. 2; Burnes, 2009, p. 183).

However, innovative practices cannot be easily imposed on the employees who may not understand the reasons for adopting these innovations (Burnes, 2009, p. 183). This is one of the pitfalls that should be avoided. To some degree, this principle can be applied to the needs of CCLS. In particular, it is critical to focus on the role played by frontline employees of this organization. They can provide valuable suggestions by identifying practices that can be adopted in various branches of CCLS. For instance, these stakeholders can tell how online programs can be better implemented. Moreover, they can identify the strategies for meeting the needs of readers.

For instance, they can find ways of eliminating the bureaucratic procedures that make people reluctant to use the services of a library (Etzioni-Halevy, 2013, p. 34). Such an approach can appeal to employees who will feel that they are important stakeholders in the organization (Bennet, 2004, p. 302). In contrast, people, who interact with autocratic leaders, are less likely to take independent steps (Kedharnath, 2011, p. 1).

Moreover, such individuals tend to be dissatisfied with their work (Sakiru & D’silva, 2013, p. 34; Park, Ribiere, & Schulte, 2004, p. 106). In turn, people, who run CCLS, should modify their leadership style, especially if it does enhance the autonomy of employees (Kedharnath, 2011, p. 1). Therefore, by focusing on the opinions of these people, the management can better implement change and identify the most optimal long-term strategies. These examples show that some principles derived from CAS theory can be relevant to the needs of this organization that has to adjust to the external environment. Yet, to achieve this goal, they need to change the patterns according to which the organization functions. In particular, one should focus on the transformation of organizational culture.

Furthermore, CAS theory implies that different components of a system tend to self-organization. This situation can be observed in those cases when the agents of a system are relatively autonomous. They are not forced to function only according to a specific pattern (Yang, 2008, p. 93). Thus, according to this approach, different components of a system are closely intertwined with one another.

This theoretical premise has significant practical implications. In particular, in organizations, different departments or units are related to one another. Therefore, the management should encourage cooperation between different units to improve the performance of the entire organization. Additionally, people, who occupy leading positions in the workplace hierarchy, should regularly interact with employees. This is another principle that should guide the transformational change in CCLS. For instance, the board of trustees should encourage cooperation between employees working in different branches of CCLLS.

Moreover, this organization should foster cooperation between employees working in the same department. It is vital to create a culture in which team members are not afraid of expressing their opinions or contradicting the opinions of the majority (Olson & Eoyand, 2001, p. 9). This safeguard is important for avoiding such a problem as groupthink which adversely influences decision-making in various organizations (Olson & Eoyand, 2001, p. 9). These suggestions are important for developing solutions to existing problems.

Additionally, the theory of complex adaptive systems implies that considerable transformations are the result of external influences (Schuman, 2012, p. 7). To a great extent, these influences can be viewed as the main sources of energy for complex adaptive systems (Tower, 2002, p. 4; Piorkowski, 2007, p. 13). This principle has significant practical implications for organizations. They should not shield themselves from the external environment since, in the long-term, they can lose the opportunity for renewal (Tower, 2002, p. 4). This idea can be relevant to CCLS. For instance, this institution should benefit from the development of new technologies.

This is one of the points that can be made. Apart from that, it is important to consider the opinions of those people who use the services of CCLS. They can also be regarded as important stakeholders whose attitudes can shape the long-term performance of this organization. Moreover, they can help employees better understand the strengths and weaknesses of an organization. Therefore, this theoretical principle can be effectively used for the needs of this library that has to depart from the conventional patterns of functioning.

On the whole, these examples discussed in this section indicate that more attention should be paid to the role played by separate employees. Moreover, the management should provide more opportunities for their teamwork, because, in this way, organizations can find better solutions to the current problems. The employees of this organization may also accept this approach because it gives them autonomy. It should be noted that these people often lack empowerment (Teegarden et al., 2010, p. 37). This is one of the aspects that should be considered by the management of this organization.

Nevertheless, it is important to remember that the principles of CAS theory can be effectively implemented provided that the main decision-makers in CCLS are willing to delegate some of their authority to the frontline personnel. These stakeholders need to understand that their role has to be changed, but some of them may not be willing to accept these innovations. This is the main challenge that should be addressed. This is why this task is important for applying the principles of CAS theory. These are the main issues that can be singled out.

Appreciative Inquiry

It is possible to rely on such a process as Appreciative Inquiry to find solutions that problems encountered by CCLS. This method is based on the premise that one should identify those qualities of a system that make its sustainability possible (Whitney& Trosten-Bloom, 2010, p. 24). For instance, the main strength of this organization is its collection of books, articles, or other materials that are both relevant and up-to-date. Furthermore, it is necessary to examine the motives that prompt people to stay in CCLS. These reasons can help increase the motivation of employees. In turn, managers should lay stress on these motives to strengthen their commitment (Whitney& Trosten-Bloom, 2010, p. 24).

Leaders should understand why the qualities of the CCLS prompt employees to stay in this organization. For instance, many of these people enjoy interactions with readers. In turn, leaders who will implement this change should rely on such individuals. Moreover, these people can form an idealized image of the organization. These are the main advantages of this approach.


Thus, one can argue that the notion of the complexity of the adaptive system can be relevant to the need for CCLS. The principles of this theory show how change can be implemented in this organization. The leaders should focus on the following issues: 1) the empowerment of employees; 2) their teamwork; 3) the removal of barriers between different departments, and 4) openness of the organization. This method can help achieve significant improvement through minor changes. In turn, people, who run CCLS, should be able to delegate authority to other employees to ensure the sustainable development of this library. Overall, CAS theory can be successfully translated into practice provided that organizational culture is made less bureaucratic. These are the main arguments that can be put forward.

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