Configuring in high velocity error sensitive circumstances : a grounded study
The operational reliability of organizations that deal on a routine basis with very dynamic circumstances has been a rich domain of study for organizational scholars for many years. Increasing reliance on the application of complex technologies and human processes in a range of social endeavour provokes our need to understand the attributes of such processes. Traditional contingency theoretic perspectives tend to produce archetypal resolutions that identify in rather specific terms what organizational forms can be matched with particular environmental characteristics. But as the organizational environment becomes more dynamic this approach seems less credible. This research therefore moves beyond the search for archetypes to investigate the processes by which resources are configured in order to deal with dynamic circumstances. Further, with self-managed teams increasingly acknowledged to be central to performance, contributing to fast, flexible and creative action and therefore used as the fundamental work group, this study focuses on the meso-level of the team. This helps to limit the scope of the research task while still offering opportunities for good theoretical and practical contribution. Adopting a grounded, qualitative methodology it triangulates evidence from three dissimilar domains (accident and emergency, air traffic control and fire service) that share a common context of unpredictability, high velocity and error sensitivity. The findings identify a specific type of situated behaviour, termed agile configuration, by which team members configure remarkably flexible and reliable behaviours in very dynamic situations, suggesting an almost limitless range of potential configuring behaviours that avoid the limitations of configurational archetypes. The adduced models and explanations provide theoretical insights that increase understanding of behaviour in extreme contingencies and therefore advance traditional contingency theoretic perspectives, with particular relevance for concepts of dynamic capability. These outcomes also have practical potential for the development of agile configuration competence in self managed teams and larger organizational groupings.