Leading on the Edge of Chaos: Mergers in Higher Education

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Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 34: Higher Education on the Edge

July, 2011, 394 pages
Published by
K. Krause, M. Buckridge, C. Grimmer, & S. Purbrick-Illek
0 908557 85 X

This paper examines the leadership aspects of a merger between a Church College and a post-1992 university in England, focusing on leadership. The case-study was longitudinal, with data gathered from interviews and questionnaires, starting before the merger and continuing until seven years after it. In the confusion that followed the merger, the institution developed the characteristics of a complex system, in which there were multiple, interacting variables. People’s feelings, particularly the need for a sense of efficacy, led them to behave like ‘self-organising agents’ in complexity theory. They achieved ‘fitness of purpose’ in relation to work outcomes and emotional needs by reducing their participation in organisation-wide activities and focusing on students. As a result it proved difficult to shift from a directive to a more participatory leadership style and to re-engage staff at an organisational level. The paper identifies a number of recommendations for those leading mergers. Recognising that it is difficult to attend to the ‘human side’ when operating at a strategic level, the recommendations include creating a communications post to ensure rapid two-way feedback between staff and managers, and planning in advance for a prolonged period of chaos to ensure that key activities are maintained.

Keywords: leadership, mergers, complexity