Sub-theme 53: Resilient Organizing: Managing in Extreme Contexts and Situations of Crisis

Daniel Geiger
Universität Hamburg, Germany
Samer Faraj
McGill University, Canada
Markus Hällgren
Umeå University, Sweden

Call for Papers

This sub-theme seeks to bring together scholars who are interested in theorizing about resilient ways of organizing and managing in crisis situations or high-risk contexts. In recent years, significant research interest has emerged to try to extend the early work on high reliability organizing, toward meso-level explanations of teamwork and practices that characterize resilient ways of organizing in a range of settings ranging from hospitals, trauma centers, fire fighting, police work, high-risk health interventions. Recent work, based on innovative field studies of response organizations has already generated insight on how to minimize error in situations of crisis, how to mount a fast response, improvise and break protocols to meet the unexpected, and how teamwork unfolds in high-risk contexts. Yet, beyond recognition of the need for in-depth studies and favouring a situated practice perspective, theoretical progress has been slow (van der Vegt, 2015).
The aim of the sub-theme is to open up a dialogue between theoretical approaches around resilient ways of organizing, responding to novelty and crisis, and mounting responses in extreme contexts were errors can have disastrous consequences. A specific emphasizes of the sub-theme is to compare and contrast the practices that organizations operating in such environments enact and re-enact in order to minimize risk and manage resilience. Whilst high-reliability research (e.g. Weick & Sutcliffe, 2001) has highlighted organizing principles, such as a preoccupation with failure, as core to managing in extreme contexts, there exists a stubborn need to develop a deeper theory-informed understanding of how such preoccupations are enacted in situations of adverse events and in extreme contexts. Much organizational research has favored a modeling approach in terms of quantifying risk and predicting probability of negative events occurring. Such methods are best applied to events and situations where the risks can be quantified.
Our core preoccupation in this sub-theme, however, is to learn from rich field settings to deepen our theorizing as to how organizations respond or operate resiliently when faced with novelty and surprise. Little is known to date as to how individuals, organizations and networks actually practice resilience. Research that deepens our understanding of resilience implies a shift toward studying settings where normal operations are at risk of sudden interruption or where the organization need to mount an effective adaptation to novel and emergent new situations. Thus, the line of research focused on in this sub-theme is not only important theoretically but also timely as recent world events indicate an increase in situations where resilient organizing in order to protect the public is at a premium. Examples include but are not limited to disastrous situations such as the public health emergencies, e.g., the Ebola outbreak, responding to accidents such as rescuing the trapped miners in Chile, or mounting a response to mass shootings as occurred in Paris. In addition, the theorizing will have an impact on the broader practices of emergency response organizations such as the police, or fire brigades.
We would like to particularly highlight that we are seeking for solid theorizing, rather than mere fascination with the contexts per se. Suggested topics of interest to the sub-theme include, but are not limited to:

  • Practices for managing in high risk, extreme contexts
  • The management of unexpected events
  • Fast-response organizing
  • The sensemaking of and within high risk, extreme contexts
  • Responding to disasters
  • The disruption of organizational practices in high risk, extreme contexts
  • The way organizations practice resilience for coping with extreme events
  • Methodological challenges and opportunities when studying unexpected events, and/or high risk, extreme contexts
  • Dealing with crises as a temporary way of organizing
  • Knowledge flows and coordination that improve fast response
  • The role of interorganizational practices for dealing with high-risk, extreme contexts

The sub-theme wishes to attract both high-quality contributions that are ready to be submitted to a research journal as well as research in progress that explores these challenging issues. It seeks to provide an opportunity for engaging in constructive dialogue and to encourage mutual learning among the participating scholars. All paper presentations will be commented by a discussant from the group. Session leaders will be asked to provide an open and encouraging atmosphere for discussion. In a panel format, special discussants will be asked to summarize the discussions at the end of each of three days thereby cutting across the various papers presented, but also initiating a larger discussion and future vision.


  • van der Vegt, G.S., Essens, P., Wahlstrom, M., & George, G. (2015): ”Managing Risk and Resilience.” Academy of Management Journal, 58, 971–980.
  • Weick, K.E., & Sutcliffe, K.M. (2001): Managing the Unexpected. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Daniel Geiger is Professor of Organization Studies at the University of Hamburg, Germany. Formerly he was Professor for International Management at the University of Kaiserslautern. His research interests focus on organizational practices for coping with hot, unexpected situations, the dynamics of organizational routines and rules and organizational resilience. He has published among others in ‘Organization Science’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Organization’, ‘Journal of Applied Behavioural Science’ and ‘Management Learning’.
Samer Faraj is Canada Research Chair in Technology, Management, and Healthcare at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University. He leads the research group on Complex Collaboration (web: and serves as director of the Faculty’s PhD program. He is a previous Senior Editor at ‘Organization Science’ and ‘Information Systems Research’. His research focuses on knowledge collaboration, new forms of organizing, and technology performativity in settings such as online communities and healthcare organizations.
Markus Hällgren is Professor of Management at Umeå School of Business and Economics, Umeå University, Sweden. He leads the research programme of Extreme Environments, Everyday Decisions (web: and serves as Head of Research at the Department of Business Administration. Moreover, he is one of the instigators and organizers of the “Organizing Extreme Contexts” network. His research interests focus on organizational routines, sensemaking and decision making in extreme contexts from a practice approach in settings such as police organizations, high-altitude mountaineering and emergency department operations.