The Cynefin Framework and the Role of Large Group Interventions in Facilitating Communication in Conditions of Organizational Complexity

A paper presented at the Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, May 2007

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Dense Content Alert: This is an academic paper that is formatted for and contains dense content.  In other words – very interesting stuff but not a ‘quick read’.


This paper demonstrates the Cynefin framework helps leaders (and other communicators) with sense making.  The framework shows the difference ordered and unordered organizational contexts and assists with sense making as it relates to one of four organizational domains: simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic.  Complex contexts call for new communication approaches ans one of these approaches, the large group intervention, is discussed in detail.

In complex contexts, Large Group Interventions (Boone and Alban, 2006) can serve as valuable communication approaches by providing enabling conditions for effective interactions between agents in a complex adaptive system (CAS.) The principles guiding Large Group Interventions simultaneously impact organizational communication at an interpersonal level by creating more respectful interaction (Browning, 2007.) The authorshows how proper identification of context through the Cynefin framework (Kurtz and Snowden, 2003; Snowden and Boone, 2007) is crically to effective application of these comlexity-based approaches.

An example of a large group intervention with the IT department of a large pharmaceutical company is explored. Client-consultant communication in this type of intervention is also examined.

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