Proceedings of the 55th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2011, Hull, UK, Proceedings of the 55th Annual Meeting of the ISSS

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Mary C Edson


This research paper follows the theoretical paper, Group Development: A Complex Adaptive Systems Perspective (Edson, 2010) presented at the 54th Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences in Waterloo, Canada. This case study explored resilience in a project team through analysis of group development from a complex adaptive systems perspective. Three research questions focused on the team’s consciousness of a need to change under adversity, its response through adaptive action, and its potential for innovation through creative destruction. The study used flexible design and mixed methods by applying grounded theory coding techniques to understand a retrospective case study. The subject was the CUSD2009 Team of approximately 200 students and faculty members, which designed and built a solar house over a 2-year period for an international competition with 19 other teams sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. Data analysis used a multilevel approach consisting of coding the data through the lenses of two models and a theory. Relationships between models of group development, the complex adaptive cycle, and complex adaptive systems theory were established theoretically and empirically. Results of the 3 research questions indicated that the team exhibited agency through the following: (a) collective consciousness of a need for change to maintain the team’s function toward the project goals, (b) collective action to make necessary changes, and (c) emergence of innovation through creative destruction entailing renegotiation of group norms in response to an adversity. The multilevel analysis culminated in an integrated systems perspective with conclusions about resilience in project teams, specifically the role of environmental feedback. Implications for future research using complex adaptive systems as a theoretical foundation for studying group development and resilience include organizational culture, inflection points, nested adaptive cycles, emergence of leadership, and emergence of innovation. This research contributes a deeper understanding of project team resilience in organizational systems such as companies, non-profits, governmental, and non-governmental entities by revealing the importance of environmental feedback and organizational learning to build adaptive capacity.

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