Developing a Social Complexity Theoretical Lens
Bob, one of the team leaders at the logistic firm where Francesca works, was abashed when he found the apples in the pantry. To him, the apples were artifacts that resonated with previous experiences in a former job in a traditional organization where HRM was - in his opinion - patronizing and controlling, contrasting with his personal values in autonomy and independence. Furthermore, top management demanded rigorous performance improvements while he was increasingly accountable for the wellbeing of his co-workers. With his close teammate Janet, they discussed the interventions. They interacted to construct meaning to an intervention based on their past experiences with HRM and their histories interacting together sharing narratives with others.
Complex Adaptive System Thinking and Social Complexity Theory
Complexity sciences originated in the natural sciences studies on weather and climate (Chia, 1998) and the behavior of ants (Anderson & McShea, 2001). The theory of complex adaptive systems states that a complex system consists of a population of heterogenous entities, or agents, that interact based on a set of locally constructed dynamic rules resulting from direct interaction between agents in a particular time-spatial context. Even though behavior in that time-spatial context is governed by local rules, actors also have degrees of freedom to make decisions. Consequently, interaction processes between agents can be described as non-linear, on the one hand, and repetitive over time, on the other (Cilliers, 1998). This gives way for self-organizing and, in turn, shapes emergent properties of population-wide patterns of behavior as dynamic outcomes of countless local interactions in the population (Colbert & Kurucz, 2011).
It is impossible to unravel every single local interaction to understand emerging patterns of behavior in the system. However, complex adaptive systems thinking facilitates understanding how certain clear patterns of behavior emerge from seemingly chaotic interaction processes, and how subsequent actions of local agents give rise to new comprehensive properties of a particular system.
Analogously with complex adaptive systems thinking, the social complexity perspective, which is central to the understanding of organizational culture as a process leading this chapter, seeks to explain how social reality patterns of communication emerge when people interact with each other in time and space (Homan, 2016; Kira & Lifvergren,
2014; Letiche, Lissack, & Schultz, 2011; Stacey & Mowles, 2016; Stewart, 2001), and how patterns of communication, power structures, norms and values, all emerge from the interplay of individual and group choices in local interaction (Stacey, 2012, p. 102).
These communication patterns evolve into population-wide patterns of communication and action in a process that resonates with the concept of organizational culture. The social complexity perspective shows that the notion of shared patterns of organizational behavior considering culture as a process differs from the mainstream view on organizational culture that sees culture built on static proportions (Chatman & O’Reilly, 2016). The next section discusses how organizational culture is conceptualized from a social complexity perspective emphasizing the core concepts.