Global Journal of Flexible Systems Management

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 291–302 | Cite as

Improvisation in Higher Education Management: Coping with Complexity and Organizational Dynamics

  • Vera Lucia Telles Scaglione
  • Victor MeyerJr.
  • Diórgenes Falcão MamédioEmail author
Original Research


This study aimed to analyze how improvisation activities take place within the management of a higher education organization, by examining practices and related constructs, such as innovation, intuition, bricolage and learning. This is a case study on a large private university, located in São Paulo, Brazil. Data were collected through in-depth interviews, non-participant observation and document analysis. The results showed that improvisation in academic management is characterized by constant pressures that challenge their managers toward adaptations, reorganization in crisis situations, the sense of urgency and coping with the unexpected. Minimal structures, flexibility and competence have proved to be essential elements for improvisation. Decisions and actions, practiced by academic managers, were characterized by spontaneity, creativity and managerial flexibility. Dynamic and complex environments make improvisational practices that emerge in the day-to-day of academic management. The existence of a culture favorable to experimentation, to the autonomy of managers, contributes to reviewing processes and disseminating practices of improvisation. The incorporation of bricolage as a way to better use limited resources proved to be promising for managerial effectiveness. Originality is demonstrated in the relationship between the practices of improvisation and academic management, seen as a unique context in a flexible and complex system. This paper highlights suggestions for managerial practice related to improvisation practices as one of the ways to cope with organizational dynamics.


Complex systems Flexibility Higher education Organizational dynamics Organizational improvisation 



This study was supported by CAPES (Grant No. 88881.188947/2018-01).


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© Global Institute of Flexible Systems Management 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Business SchoolPontifícia Universidade Católica do ParanáCuritibaBrazil
  2. 2.Business SchoolPontifícia Universidade Católica do ParanáCuritibaBrazil

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