Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

Methodological Approaches for Researching Complex Organizational Phenomena

Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

Methodological Approaches for Researching Complex Organizational Phenomena

Article excerpt

Introduction

Organizations face an ever increasingly turbulent environment requiring agility (robustness, flexibility, and adaptability) of organizational processes, efficient informing systems, and flexible management arrangements to operate effectively in such environments (Atkinson & Moffat, 2005; NATO, 2006). Organizations are complex systems (Anderson, 1999; Stacey, 2001), they are "... dynamic systems of adaptation and evolution that contain multiple parts which interact with one another and the environment" (Morel & Ramanujam, 1999: p. 278). In the context of this research, an organization is regarded as a system comprising rules, policies, procedures, and defined roles (formal structure) within which individual agents or groups of agents operate and interact (formal and informal structures). While in some operational conditions different structures within organizations adhere to known formal processes, under other circumstances they exhibit behavior in which regularity and predictability is lost and they interact with each other in informal ways. In complex organizations, formal and informal structures co-exist and interact with each other. Therefore, to meet the demands of the changing environment organizations need to explore how individuals construct their own reality in such contexts and to understand the dynamic of interaction between formal and informal organizational structures. Likewise, researchers in the fields of informing science and organizational management need to employ a variety of research methods to make sense of these varied conditions to study complex organizational phenomena. In this context complexity theory and associated with it frameworks have implications for the methodologies used to understand complex organizations.

Gill (2013) advocates that to cope with complexity we need to understand it. This must include a discourse on methods to study complex phenomena. This paper presents methodological considerations for an in-depth investigation of the complementary roles played by formal and informal structures in meeting the informing and resource needs of people operating in an environment characterized by volatility, high tempo, and uncertainty. It argues that approaches combining different methodological lenses are needed for this type of study. The research methods chosen for the study are discussed and justified in terms of the research problem. Preliminary outcomes and a wider discussion of this research in view of the research questions are reported in Ali (2011).The purpose of this paper is to detail the methodology used and draw lessons learned in light of its application and also to aid transdisciplinary approach to informing science.

Background to the Study: Informal Networks and Organizations

From the early days of hunter-gatherers to tribal warlords, formal organizational structures have been an integral part of society (Clegg & Dunkerley, 1986). At the same time, informal and social networks are accepted part of life and the extent and the types of networks individuals form affects many aspects of their life from one's health, identity, and wellbeing to education, career advancement, and power in the organizations (Brass, Galaskiewicz, Greve, & Tsai, 2004; Granovetter, 1983; Kilduff & Tsai, 2003; Krackhardt, 1990; Krackhardt & Hanson, 1993; Liccardi et al., 2007). In the field of knowledge management, knowledge distribution, and gaining competitive advantage, the importance of informal networks is well supported (Awazu, 2004; Cross, Parker, Prusak, & Borgatti, 2001; Hoffman, Hoelscher, & Scherif, 2005; Kurland & Pelled, 2000; Plickert, Cote, & Wellman, 2007). In disaster and emergency management, informal networks, due to their flexibility, adaptability, and fast information flows, have been shown to be crucial as disaster management seldom works according to standard operating procedures or neatly defined roles and responsibilities (Denning, 2006; Hyland, 2011; O'Brien & Ali, 2006; O'Neil & O'Brien, 2004). …

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