Local Rules and Fitness Landscapes: A Catastrophe Model
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This paper examines the imposition of “local rules” in five mail delivery centres of Australia Post. Local rules are patterns of behaviour used by subunits of an organization to optimise their payoff. These local rules may ultimately benefit the total organization. Fitness landscapes are used to examine the emergence of local rules in this workplace. This research examined the relationship between the time taken to sort the mail and the volume of this mail. Work rates show a clear catastrophe shift; that is, work rates suddenly drop when the volume of mail exceeds a certain level, as Postal Delivery Officers apply local rules to maximise gains inherent in the pay structures. Such behaviour is close to that predicted by Kauffman (1995) in computer simulations of lattices and may be indicative of the application of local rules in organizations. The implications of the use of local rules are that behaviour in social systems may be dictated by systemic and emergent processes which are outside immediate management control. A further implication is that organizations may be structured to a significant extent by such local rules.
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