Managing the complex adaptive learning organization.

Laszlo Horvath1,2, Eva Verderber1,2 & Tibor Barath3

1Eötvös Loránd University, Institute of Education

2Eötvös Loránd University, Doctoral School of Education

3University of Szeged, Hungarian Netherlands School of Educational Management

The aim of our paper is to highlight the connections between specific leadership roles and learning organization behaviour in the context of educational institutions as complex adaptive systems.According to Keshavarz et al. (2010) schools can be considered as social complex adaptive systems as they show the characteristics of nested systems, continuous change and adaptation, distributed control, emergent changes and unpredictability. This implies that the organization comprises of diverse, rule-based agents who are located in a multi-level network and their behaviour include interactive learning and knowledge sharing. From these characteristics emerges the concept of learning organization (Senge, 1990) which is an adaptive, self-organizing entity (Segall, 2003), able to manage knowledge (Garvin, 1993) with the appropriate cultural aspects (vision, values, behaviour) supporting the learning environment, processes supporting learning and development and structural aspects enabling the support of learning activities (Armstrong and Foley, 2003) in order to continuously learn, develop and adapt to the ever changing environment (Ali, 2012).A key question is how can these organizations perform dancing at the edge of chaos? In earlier researches the concept of distributed leadership showed positive contribution towards improved school performance (Elmore, 2004; Fullan, 2006; Spillane, 2006) and organizational learning (Silins, Zarins and Mulford, 2002; Mulford, Silins and Leithwood, 2004). Distributed leadership connects with the notion of distributed control aspect of complex adaptive system and it utilizes the approach of organizational learning theory, distributed cognition and complexity science (Leithwood, Mascall and Strauss, 2009). Distributed leadership can be interpreted as “practice distributed over leaders, followers and their situation and incorporates the activities of multiple groups of individuals” (Spillane et al., 2001, p.20).Our one year research aim was the examination of organizational behaviour and development of learning organizations in the Hungarian public education selecting 82 high-performing institutions from the South-Great Plain Region. Based on literature review, expert workshops and initial organizational diagnosis we proposed a model for schools as learning organization which was empirically tested and validated. With 62 participants on the questionnaire for leaders and 1192 participants on the questionnaire for teachers we managed to connect institutional, leadership and individual characteristics to identify main aspects of learning organization behaviour and its positive correlation with organizational learning and competitiveness. Based on the competing values framework (Quin & Rohrbaugh, 1983; Quinn et al., 1996; Cameron & Quinn, 2011) we also analysed the connection between learning organizational behaviour and different leadership roles and we found that mainly the facilitator and coordinator roles supports best all the aspects of learning organization behaviour. This implies an internal focus and an unpredictability between flexibility and control which also supports the complex adaptive system and distributed leadership approach.

Keywords: schools as complex systems, learning organization, organizational behaviour, leadership style, competing values framework


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