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Organisational ineffectiveness: environmental shifts and the transition to crisis

Denis Fischbacher-Smith (Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK)

Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance

ISSN: 2051-6614

Article publication date: 25 November 2014




The purpose of this paper is to explore the notion of effectiveness in the context of organisational crisis. It considers the “darker” side of organisational effectiveness by exploring the processes by which effectiveness can be eroded as an organisation moves from an ordered state, through a complex one, and into a state of chaos, or crisis. It brings together complementary literatures on risk, crisis management, and complexity, and uses those lenses to frame some of the key processes that allow organisations to transition to a state that shapes their inabilities to remain effective.


The paper sets out a theoretical framework for the analysis of a crisis event and does so in a way that emphasises the role of the human element in the various stages of a crisis: the incubation phase, the operational crisis, and the post-event legitimation phase. The paper uses the emerging crisis around the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 to illustrate some of the task demands associated with a crisis and the manner in which crisis events challenge the efficiencies and capabilities of organisations to deal with complex, multi-layered issues in which uncertainty is high. Given the emergent nature of that particular crisis, the use of the case is purely illustrative rather than analytically grounded in a normal case study approach.


The paper highlights a number of underlying elements that contribute to the generation of crises and offers recommendations for managers on how to deal with those demands. The paper shows how an organisation can move from an ordered state into a complex or chaotic one and highlights some of the problems that arise when an organisation does not have the capabilities to respond to the task demands generated by such a shift in the environment.

Practical implications

The paper challenges some of the normal practices of management in a “steady state” environment and highlights the need to consider the organisational capabilities that are necessary to deal with the transition from a stable to an unstable system state and ensure organisational effectiveness in the process. A core message within the paper is that the “normal” processes of management can contribute to the generation of crises as organisations prioritise short-term efficiencies over the strategies for longer-term effectiveness. The implications for crisis management practices are discussed.

Social implications

The paper considers an issue that has wider applicability within society namely the relationships between organisational effectiveness and risk. The issues raised in the paper have applicability in a range of other societal settings.


The key output from the paper is the development of a theoretical framework that allows for an analysis of the relationships between crises and organisational effectiveness. The paper argues that effectiveness and crisis management are intrinsically linked and that crises occur when organisational effectiveness is impaired. The paper highlights the role that template-based approaches to dealing with complex problems can have in terms of the generation of crisis events.



© Denis Fischbacher-Smith. Published by Emerald Group Publishing Limited. This paper is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 3.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this paper (for both commercial & non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at:

The work reported in this paper was part of a wider EPSRC-funded study (Grant EP/G004889/1) relating to organisational vulnerabilities. The author would like to acknowledge the comments made on an earlier version of this paper by Moira Fischbacher-Smith, Paul Sparrow and the reviewers. Thanks are also due to Paul Sparrow for facilitating the review process. Needless to say, all errors of commission and omission remain those of the author.


Fischbacher-Smith, D. (2014), "Organisational ineffectiveness: environmental shifts and the transition to crisis", Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance, Vol. 1 No. 4, pp. 423-446.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Authors

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