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December 29, 2023

Developing Organizational Adaptability for Complex Environment

Journal of Leadership Education DOI: 10.12806/V16/I2/T2 APR 2017 THEORY
183
Developing Organizational Adaptability for Complex Environment
Steven A. Boylan, Associate Professor, United States Army Command & General Staff College (CGSC)
Kenneth A. Turner, Curriculum Developer, United States Army Command & General Staff College (CGSC)
Introduction

War is an environment where cause and effect are often indiscernible, traditional responses often fail, and solving problems requires new ways of thinking. In this environment, adaptability in leaders and organizations is essential. The challenges presented by the complex and uncertain environment dictate that one of the crucial qualities for success as a leader is the ability to develop organizations capable of adapting.
We are approaching complexity from two perspectives: the complexity of the operating environment, which is well-established (Seijts, Billou, & Crossan, 2010; Vasconcelos & Ramirez, 2011; Collinson & Jay, 2012; Dervitsiotis, 2012; Haynes, 2015) and the complexity of the organization. The complexity of the organization needs to be better established in the literature. Traditionally, leadership theories view organizations as machines with processes, sub-elements, and resources that leaders analyze, disassemble, and reassemble in new and improved structures.
This is an antiquated, industrial-age perspective. A more adequate view of organizations is as complex organic living systems (Wheatley, 2006; Goldstein, Hazy, & Lichtenstein, 2010). As a complex system, an organization can adapt and grow as a machine cannot. Another important aspect of viewing an organization as a complex system is that a small group of people can make
a significant difference beyond the scope of their capacity (Goldstein, Hazy, &
Lichtenstein, 2010). By accepting that organizations are complex and, by definition, inherently capable of adapting, leaders can take positive action to set the conditions to enhance organizational adaptability.
Developing organizations capable of adapting requires leaders to set conditions. Setting conditions typically requires purposeful activities by the leadership to foster and build leader and individual adaptability, supported by processes and activities that enable adaptive behaviors throughout the totality of the organization (Goldstein, Hazy, & Lichtenstein, 2010). Developing
adaptive organizations is challenging, requiring both art and process. In this paper, we touch on both and provide a concept for developing military organizations capable of adapting to changing environments and setting the conditions for organizational adaptability.

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