Leadership in Work Teams in Complex Adaptive Systems


Start and End of the Project
2018 to 2019

Principal Investigator
Professor Catarina Gomes


Research Team

 Catarina Gomes
CAPP/ISCSP - Universidade de Lisboa
 Luís Alberto Santos Curral
Faculdade de Psicologia - Universidade de Lisboa
 Pedro Marques-Quinteiro
William James Center for Research - ISPA
 Pedro G. Lind
Physics Department - University of Osnabrück
 Amável Santos
ISCSP - Universidade de Lisboa


Institutional Partners

Faculdade de Psicologia - Universidade de Lisboa Portugal



A diversity of global forces has pushed organizations into restructuring work around teams in order to provide rapid, flexible and adaptive responses to environmental unpredictability (Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006). Despite the fact that leadership is recognized as a core factor in whether teams meet these challenges, we find scant proposals of leadership models for this turbulent era. To address this, Uhl-Bien & Marion (2009) proposed a meso model of complexity leadership theory (CLT) in which adaptation in complex bureaucratic environments is achieved through the interaction of three leadership functions: adaptive, administrative, and enabling. Adaptive leadership is an emergent change behavior under conditions of interactive dynamics that is the primary source by which adaptive outcomes are produced. Administrative leadership refers to the actions of individuals in formal managerial roles who plan and coordinate organizational activities (the bureaucratic function). Enabling leadership serves to enable (catalyze) adaptive dynamics and help manage the entanglement between administrative and adaptive leadership (by fostering enabling conditions and managing the innovation-to-organization interface). In CLT, the basic unit of analysis is a complex adaptive system (CAS), which is formed by a network of interdependent agents (e.g. persons; groups) whose behaviors trigger the emergence of complex adaptive structures such as team cognition.

Communication emerges as essential for complex leadership to occur. However, Ruben & Gigliotti (2016) emphasize that the link that has been established between communication and leadership is limited to seeing communication only as a strategic or technical mechanism that is employed by individuals who assume leadership (traditional vision of leadership) in efforts to achieve specific goals. It is clear that this view limits the understanding that communication plays in organizational dynamics and organizational configurations in particular (Ruben & Gigliotti, 2017). A concern that is consonant with Complexity Leadership Theory, as previously mentioned.

In this sense the aim of this project, in line with Ruben & Gigliotti (2016, 2017), is to provide a broader view of the communication process and to perceive its current and potential contributions to the theory and dynamics of complexity leadership. In this way also contributing to the extension of the work developed by Curral, Marques-Quinteiro, Gomes, & Lind (2016).

Thus, through an experimental methodology, a management task will be simulated using the Sim City electronic game (e.g. Randall, Resick & DeChurch, 2011). In this task we will manipulate the complexity leadership functions (Curral, Marques-Quinteiro, Gomes & Lind, 2016) and the teams’ adaptability through considering the difficulty degree of the task which will increase after the first 10 minutes of simulation.


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