Implications of Complexity Theory for Organizational Design

Jump To References Section


  • Oust Labs, Bangalore – 560034, Karnataka ,IN
  • Justice K. S. Hegde Institute of Management, Nitte – 574110, Karnataka ,IN



Adaptive Systems, Complexity Theory, De-centered Organizations, Emergent Organizations, Self-regulation


The business world is experiencing change at an unprecedented rate and this state of turbulence is characterized by heightened volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, popularly called VUCA. Organizations are not only bracing to take on the challenges posed by this environment, but are also evolving new practices that can help them thrive in these times. These new practices, however are a definite departure from existing, established organization principles. In this paper, we take a critical look at these existing principles of management as articulated by Urwick and propose that Complexity Theory shows the promise to enable us to come up with new principles that are attuned to the practices of today's successful organizations. We further substantiate this perspective with the help of two short case studies.




How to Cite

Dixit, S., & Sankaran, K. (2020). Implications of Complexity Theory for Organizational Design. Nitte Management Review, 13(1&2), 25–36.–2020/v13i1&2/26372



Mellahi K, Wilkinson A. Organizational failure: A critique of recent research and a proposed integrative framework. Int J Manag Rev. 2004; 5-6(1):21–41.

Bennett N, Lemoine GJ. What a difference a word makes: Understanding threats to performance in a VUCA world. Bus Horiz. 2014 May 1; 57(3):311–7.

Mack O, Khare A, Kramer A, Burgartz T, editors. Managing in a VUCA World [Internet]. Cham: Springer International Publishing; 2016 [cited 2020 Nov 1]. 978-3-319-16889-0

Cousins B. Design thinking: Organizational learning in Vuca environments. Acad Strateg Manag J. 2018 Jul 1; 17(2):1.

Horney N, Pasmore B, O'Shea T. Leadership agility: A imperative for a VUCA world. People Amp Strategy. 2010 Dec 1; 33(4):32–9.

Lawrence K. Developing leaders in a VUCA environment. UNC Exec Dev. 2013; 1–15.

Rodriguez A, Rodriguez Y. Metaphors for today's leadership: VUCA world, millennial and "Cloud Leaders”. J Manag Dev. 2015 Jan 1; 34(7):854-66.

Du J, Chen Z. Applying organizational ambidexterity in strategic management under a "VUCA” environment: Evidence from high tech companies in China. Int J Innov Stud. 2018 Mar 1; 2(1):42–52.

Taylor FW. The principles of scientific management. N Y. 1911; 202.

Sadler P. The seamless organization: Building the company of tomorrow. 4th ed. London; Dover (NH): Kogan Page Business Books; 2001. 172 p.

Simon HA. New developments in the theory of the firm. Am Econ Rev. 1962; 52(2):1–15.

Goulielmos AM. Complexity theory: A science where historical accidents matter. Disaster Prev Manag Int J. 2005 Jan 1; 14(4):533–47.

Bertalanffy L von. General systems theory as integrating factor in contemporary science [Internet]. Vol. 2. Akten des XIV. Internationalen Kongressesfür Philosophie. 1968 [cited 2020 Nov 1]. p. 335–40. bvdb.nsf/purchase?openform&fp=wcp14&id= wcp14_1968_0002_0000_0335_0340

Bechtold BL. Chaos theory as a model for strategy development. Empower Organ. 1997 Jan 1; 5(4):193– 201.

Pina e Cunha M, Vieira da Cunha J. Towards a complexity theory of strategy. Wilding R, editor. Manag Decis. 2006 Jan 1; 44(7):839–50.

Porter DE. Industrial dynamics. Jay Forrester. M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, Mass.; Wiley, New York, 1961. xv + 464 pp. Illus. $18. Science. 1962 Feb 9; 135(3502):426–7.

Mason RB. The external environment's effect on management and strategy: A complexity theory approach. Adcroft A, editor. Manag Decis. 2007 Jan 1; 45(1):10–28. 00251740710718935

Wheatley MJ, Kellner"Rogers M. Self"organization: The irresistible future of organizing. Strategy Leadersh. 1996 Jan 1; 24(4):18–24.

Ashmos DP, Duchon D, McDaniel RR. Organizational responses to complexity: The effect on organizational performance. J Organ Change Manag. 2000 Jan 1; 13(6):577–95. 10.1108/09534810010378597

Beinhocker ED. Strategy at the edge of chaos. McKinsey Q. 1997 Jan 1; (1):24.

Goldstein J. Emergence: A construct amid a thicket of conceptual snares. Emergence. 2000 Apr 1; 2(1):5– 22.

Manson SM. Simplifying complexity: A review of complexity theory. Geoforum. 2001 Aug 1; 32(3):405– 14.

Bergmann Lichtenstein BM. Emergence as a process of self"organizing " New assumptions and insights from the study of non"linear dynamic systems. J Organ Change Manag. 2000 Jan 1; 13(6):526–44. https://

Semler R. Managing without managers. Harv Bus Rev. 1989; 67(5):76–84.

Senge PM. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the learning organization. Illustrated edition. New York: Currency; 2006. 464 p.

Perrow C. Complex organizations: A critical essay [Internet]. New York: Random House; 1986 [cited 2020 Nov 2]. books?id=F85QAQAAIAAJ

Fukuyama F. Trust: The social virtues and the creation of prosperity: Human nature and the reconstitution of social order. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster; 1996. 480 p.

Davis GF. What might replace the modern corporation: Uberization and the Web Page Enterprise. Seattle Univ Law Rev. 2015 2016; 39:501.

Claver"Cortes E, Zaragoza"Saez P, Pertusa"Ortega E. Organizational structure features supporting knowledge management processes. J Knowl Manag. 2007 Jan 1; 11(4):45–57. 13673270710762701

Zoller YJ, Muldoon J. Journey of a concept: Span of control - the rise, the decline and what is next? J Manag Hist. 2020 Jan 1; 26(4):515–33.

Correia de Sousa M, van Dierendonck D. Knowledge workers, servant leadership and the search for meaning in knowledge"driven organizations. A. Calabrese F, editor. Horiz. 2010 Jan 1; 18(3):230–9.

Ahmadian FardFini A, Rashidi TH, Akbarnezhad A, Travis Waller S. Incorporating multiskilling and learning in the optimization of crew composition. 2016 May 1 [cited 2020 Nov 2];

Renesch J, et al. New traditions in business: Spirit and leadership in the 21st century. 1st ed. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 1992. p. 270.