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You are here: Home White Papers Building a Chaordic Organization

Building a Chaordic Organization

Building a Chaordic Organization


  1. Knowledge and Information Sharing. Knowledge is one of the primary preconditions for emergent change. Chaordic organizations must rely on the collective intelligence of their people to create a desired future. Knowledge and information sharing go hand-in-glove. In the chaordic organization, power accrues to those who become a source of knowledge by sharing what they know.
  2. Innovation and Creativity. Emergent change requires innovation and creativity. They call for an environment that supports experimentation, risk-taking, and failure, and views trial-and-error as a viable process.
  3. Teamwork and Project Orientation. Knowledge growth, information sharing, creativity, and innovation thrive best in small groups where people can interact freely. To prepare the organization for emergent change, companies need to delayer and decentralize, to organize work around tasks performed in teams and project task forces, and then ensure that these teams and project groupings are flexible enough to form, change, and dissolve, as needed. The flexibility of work arrangements, the emphasis on ideas rather than structures, and the clear signal that it is better to share ideas rather than reinvent them, frees people to focus on their imagination and creativity.
  4. Diversity. The secret to productive and creative project groupings is diversity. Homogeneous groups tend to produce homogeneous ideas. To achieve a high level of creative thought, it is necessary to bring together diverse groups of people: people with different levels of expertise employees at all levels of the organization, people outside of the organization, and, above all, people representing a broad spectrum of ideas. The diverse mix should include the company’s mavericks. Honoring the contributions of everyone, including mavericks, requires a high tolerance for conflict.
  5. Strong Core Values. To enable individuals and small groups to pursue the learning and innovation that leads to self-organizing behavior, they must be allowed autonomy. But autonomy cannot be allowed to dissolve into anarchy. There must be some grounding entity that unites the independent participants and their efforts. Values as a bonding glue that keep a fluid organization from evolving beyond recognition. Values allow for coordination without control and for experimentation and adaptation without lawlessness. A value system creates a sense of purpose; the organization knows what it is about and can invest focused attention despite seemingly random behavior.


  1. Manage the Transition. The most important role managers have at this time is to lead people through the transition from the industrial era to the information era, from the world of Newton to the world of Chaos. Today’s workers are being asked to trade their comfortable, safe, stable, and predictable work would for one that is unstable, unpredictable, and highly ambiguous. Their world has turned topsy-turvy. Managers need to help people understand the reasons behind these dramatic changes and generate a sense of urgency about the need to move forward in a different manner.
  2. Build Resilience. As the speed, volume, and complexity of change accelerate, workers’ mental and physical stamina are worn down. Feeling out of control, they have reached what Alvin Toffler termed "future shock." An important role for managers is to help people increase their resilience; that is, their capacity to bounce back no matter how intense the speed or complexity of the changes.
  3. Destabilize the System. A model that places stability at its core serves to restrict managers to strategies of repetition and imitation. Therefore, managers need to assume the important role of creating an environment that elicits, supports, and nurtures creativity by deliberately upsetting the status quo, escalating some changes while damping others, and seeking a chaordic state or a state of bounded instability. One way to destabilize the system is to keep it in a state of tension. At a point where it generates dynamic imagination without exceeding people’s ability to handle the stress engendered. Voluntarily annihilate one’s ideas, model an openness to the testing of their own ideas, reward those who raise tough questions by playing devil’s advocate when consensus is achieved too readily and without debate.
  4. Manage Order and Disorder, the Present and the Future. Managers are responsible for seeing to it that the organization engages in enough innovation to keep it competitive yet enough stability to prevent its dissolving into total disarray. This paradox, which is really a constellation of paradoxes consisting of regularity and irregularity, simplicity and complexity, predictability and unpredictability, and stability and instability, calls for tremendous agility on the part of managers. One approach to the conundrum is to apply order, regularity, predictability, and stability to the daily business and disorder, irregularity, unpredictability, and instability to future change.
  5. Create and Maintain a Learning Organization. Learning is the sine qua non of an information/knowledge age and central to the self-organizing activities from which new systems emerge. Thus, a major role of managers in chaordic organizations will be to create the means by which everyone can be involved in continuous learning. If experimentation, risk-taking, and trial-and-error modes of problem solving are to compete with the overused rational, analytic modes, then the culture must tolerate failure, refrain from placing blame, and reinforce nontraditional thinking. If truly innovative ideas are a primary goal, then the culture must tolerate conflict, people "pushing back," public testing of one another’s assumptions, and healthy debate around diverse ideas. If the organization wants to capitalize on its collective human capital, then the culture must tolerate a messy structure in which project groups form, reconstitute themselves, or disband as needed. To be a successful manager in the 21st century and to enact the five roles enumerated above calls for a new mental model of manager, one suited to a world of chaos. Those who retain their Newtonian worldview will find themselves leading their organizations into oblivion.

Chaos theory may not be a viable model for understanding organizations as yet, but it is an intriguing way to think about the world.


Margaret Wheatley explains the self-organizing concept in simple terms: "Life seeks order in a disorderly way...mess upon mess until something workable emerges."


Tetenbaum, Toby J (1998). Shifting Paradigms: From Newton to Chaos. Organizational Dynamics. Retrieved January 17, 2011, from  http://www.audubon-area.org/NewFiles/newchaos.htm