Stacey’s Complexity

Theory Many models of organizational change rely on a gap analysis as the description of what needs to change,41 just as this book does. While this has the advantage of simplicity, change agents need to move beyond this to recognize the importance of interdependence and interrelationships.42 This chapter began by describing organizations as open systems, and frameworks have been presented for analysis that can account for the dynamic, multilevel, time-dependent nature of organizations. As well, change leaders have been encouraged to recognize that different situations require different levels of analysis, and the appropriate analytic tools are dependent on that level. The importance of moving away from seeing change in primarily simple, rational, cause-and-effect terms should not be underestimated. Change leaders must learn how to cope with complexity and chaos as realities.

Another branch of organizational theorists argues that organizations are complex, paradoxical entities that may not be amenable to managerial control. In this theory, called Stacey’s Complexity Theory, Stacey43 identifies the following as the underlying propositions (adapted below):

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Organizations are webs of nonlinear feedback loops that are connected with other individuals and organizations by webs of nonlinear feedback loops. These feedback systems can operate in stable and unstable states of equilibrium to the point at which chaos ensues. Organizations are inherently paradoxical. On one hand, they are pulled toward stability by forces for integration and control, security, certainty, and environmental adaptation. On the other hand, they are pulled toward instability by forces for division, innovation, and even isolation from the environment. If organizations give in to the forces for stability, they become ossified and change impaired. If they succumb to the forces for instability, they will disintegrate. Success is when organizations exist between frozen stability and chaos.


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