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Beyond hierarchy: a complexity management perspective

A. Espinosa (Hull University Business School, Scarborough, UK)
R. Harnden (Gwynedd, UK)
J. Walker (Huddersfield, UK)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 17 April 2007




This paper aims to contribute to current research on complexity management by re‐visiting Beer's paradigm on control and self‐organization and explaining its usefulness to support non‐hierarchical organizations and networks and its complementarities to new development in complexity sciences.


The paper explains the current crisis of hierarchical structures and then summarises new proposals on non‐hierarchical organizations from the perspective of complexity sciences. It then summarises Beer's provenance of control and, in particular, the ideas of requisite variety and meta‐systemic management. It explains how these ideas transform the way of approaching management and presents examples of real‐life businesses transformed by following this approach.


The analysis highlights limitations in current management theory and practice that can be overcome by embracing the paradigm of control suggested by some of the pioneer cybernetitians. It shows that the model has unprecedented powers to describe and analyse the network characteristics of contemporary social organizations from the perspective of effective management and lays down a new and democratic paradigm of control.

Research limitations/implications

This paper concentrates on explaining the main arguments of meta‐systemic management suggested originally by Beer and exploring its implications for managing complex networked organizations; more applied research would be convenient to experiment the suggested model.


This study hopefully has shown that core ideas from the tradition of cybernetics add diagnostic and design power to the other tools of complexity management, giving rise to new insights into how learning, networked structures can be brought to reality.



Espinosa, A., Harnden, R. and Walker, J. (2007), "Beyond hierarchy: a complexity management perspective", Kybernetes, Vol. 36 No. 3/4, pp. 333-347.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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