Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2016

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Business Administration

Additional Affiliations

Olin Business School

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Organizations increasingly must operate in unpredictable, dynamic, and complex situations, and scholars in a wide variety of fields argue that flexibility and adaptation in these changing environments represent important capabilities for high performing groups. In response, teams in these challenging environments often require improvisation to help them react, plan, and execute in a short time frame. Despite widespread acknowledgement in the literature that preparation is essential for teams to be able to productively improvise, few have attempted to define what antecedents would promote and enable it. I develop and test a model of how team structure can influence improvisation. Deriving improvisational behaviors from the experiential learning process, I examine how teams modify these knowledge creation behaviors to perform in situations where planning and execution time are inhibited. I then explore how the distribution of expertise and influence shape the development of these improvisational behaviors and the subsequent ability to respond when the need for improvisation arises. I propose that by structuring teams with a moderate overlap of expertise distributed across team members and variable influence that allow teams to rotate decision-making to members with the most relevant expertise, teams can best perform the improvisational behaviors necessary to successfully respond to unanticipated problems or opportunities. I test this theory in a field study using mine rescue team competitions that finds mixed support for these propositions.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Markus Baer

Committee Members

J. Stuart Bunderson, Andrew Knight, Jackson Nickerson, R. Keith Sawyer


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