How Organizations Engage with External Complexity: A Political Action Perspective

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106 Citations (Scopus)


This paper offers a new insight into how organizations engage with external complexity. It applies a political action perspective that draws attention to the hitherto neglected question of how the relative power organizational leaders enjoy within their environments is significant for the actions they can take on behalf of their organizations when faced with external complexity. It identifies cognitive and relational complexity as two dimensions of the environment with which organizations have to engage. It proposes three modes whereby organizations may engage with environmental complexity that are conditioned by an organization's power within its environment. It also considers the intention associated with each mode, as well as the implications of these modes of engagement for how an organization can learn about its environment and for the use of rationality and intuition in its strategic decision-making. The closing discussion considers how this analysis integrates complexity and political action perspectives in a way that contributes to theoretical development and provides the basis for a dynamic political co-evolutionary approach.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)803-824
Number of pages22
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Research programs

  • RSM S&E


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