Mental models can affect people’s actions and have the capacity to affect how people achieve organizational outcomes. An ethnographic complexity-based inquiry into the mental models of staff and management about work practices was undertaken within a not-for-profit organization. Interviews were conducted to uncover the mental models held by management and staff about actual work practices and ideal work practices. A comparison of the individual mental models revealed that individuals in the organization were in a state of chaotic edge thinking, where everything is perceived as a threat, procedures are formed to control, and people are reacting radically. This was a result of the miscommunication between members of the organization and an environment characterized by a negative phrase space. It is suggested that the identification of individual mental models about work practices is beneficial for knowing how a person’s actions are influenced, and in this case, why work practices failed.
Employers require well rounded work-ready graduates with the skills to adapt to a contemporary workplace. Australian universities are responding to these needs through the implementation of Work-integrated Learning (WIL) programs aimed at providing students with the necessary skills, knowledge and attributes employers seek. This paper describes a study of Work-integrated Learning programs in the Human Resource Management (HRM) discipline at a number of Australian business schools. Exploratory interviews were undertaken with a range of stakeholders and examined within a complexity theory lens. The findings suggest that WIL is viewed as a threat to the role of higher education rather than an opportunity. There is increased interdependence and vulnerability within universities and as universities struggle for resources to respond to uncertainties in their ecosystem, they are being forced into making short term changes rather than co-evolving with their environment. By looking at the connectedness and evolutionary properties of the universities involved in the study, a number of recommendations are suggested to encourage universities to move to the edge of chaos, where a university’s full potential can be realized. Complexity theory provides a new way for viewing the intricacies of higher education course development and provides an argument for universities to create enabling conditions to co-evolve with the ever changing and complex world we live in.