Explaining the emergence of team agility: a complex adaptive systems perspective

Karl Werder (Paluno – The Ruhr Institute for Software, Technology, Universitat Duisburg-Essen, Essen, Germany)
Alexander Maedche (Institute of Information Systems and Marketing, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Karlsruhe, Germany) (Institute for Enterprise Systems, University of Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany)

Information Technology & People

ISSN: 0959-3845

Publication date: 4 June 2018



Agile software development helps software producing organizations to respond to manifold challenges. While prior research focused on agility as a project or process phenomenon, the authors suggest that agility is an emergent phenomenon on the team level. The paper aims to discuss this issue.


Using the theory of complex adaptive systems (CASs), the study captures the multiple influencing levels of software development teams (SDTs) and their interplay with self-organization and emergence. The authors investigate three agile SDTs in different contextual environments that participate with four or more different roles each.


The results suggest self-organization as a central process when understanding team agility. While contextual factors often provide restriction on self-organization, they can help the team to enhance its autonomy.

Research limitations/implications

The theoretical contributions result from the development and test of theory grounded propositions and the investigation of mature agile development teams.

Practical implications

The findings help practitioners to improve the cost-effectiveness ratio of their team’s operations.


The study provides empirical evidence for the emergence of team agility in agile SDTs. Using the lens of CAS, the study suggests the importance of the team’s autonomy.



The authors appreciate helpful technical assistance by Tobias Daudert. The authors further thank the editor and anonymous reviewers for constructive suggestions for improvement.


Werder, K. and Maedche, A. (2018), "Explaining the emergence of team agility: a complex adaptive systems perspective", Information Technology & People, Vol. 31 No. 3, pp. 819-844. https://doi.org/10.1108/ITP-04-2017-0125

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