Self-Organization and -Synchronization at the Edge: Situated Action, Identity and Improvisation

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Barrett, Frank J.
Nissen, Mark E.
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Self-organization and self-synchronization represent key capabilities for Edge organizations. However, roughly a century of organizations research indicates that self-organization leads often to a lack of complementary action, or even chaos, and that coherent self-synchronization is extremely difficult to achieve in organizations of the scale and complexity envisioned for Edge operations. Indeed, a major role of hierarchical organization—the antithesis of Edge—is to enable effective organization and coherent synchronization of people’s activities. However, the majority of research and thinking reflects teleological action in a rational-cognitive framework, in which actors plan and decide before acting. This is incommensurate with the kinds of fluid, rapid, dynamic and often-unpredictable mission-environmental contexts envisioned for Edge organizations. In contrast, the research described in this paper takes a non- teleological, situated-action perspective to develop a basis for self-organization and –synchronization in an Edge organizational context. Such contrasting perspective examines how agents respond to emergent problems and contingencies without the benefit of clear goals or planning, and assumes that organizational members must act often without full awareness of consequences or articulation of purposes. Through extensive literature review (e.g., including pragmatic philosophy, phenomenological philosophy and practice theory), we show how a teleological view of action constrains the dynamics of improvisation, which are critical for self-organization and –synchronization, and how the corresponding identity construction delimits action and improvisational repertoires. We explain why a shift toward self- organization and –synchronization at the Edge requires a non-teleological view of action, and corresponding approaches to organizational design and transformation: such shift marks fundamental identity change. The article leverages this theoretical understanding to illustrate how a Hierarchy organization can “move” to develop into an Edge. In particular, we articulate a set of maxims stemming from the theoretical integration, and then outline a three-phase approach to creating an Edge organization— an approach that enables its emergence, and supports its growth into and effective operational resource. This leads to important implications and guidelines for C2 policy and practice, as well as continued research, associated with Edge organizations.
13th International Command and Control Research and Technology Symposium (ICCRTS), June 17-19, 2008, Seattle, WA.
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Center for Edge Power
Graduate School of Business & Public Policy (GSBPP)
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This publication is a work of the U.S. Government as defined in Title 17, United States Code, Section 101. Copyright protection is not available for this work in the United States.