Leading and learning through crisis : a nonlinear dynamical systems approach to decision-making in sport event organizations

  • Shane Fudge

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The growth of the sports event industry has risen dramatically over the last 40 years. These types of events have increased in size and scope in all areas of project management; budget, infrastructure design and cost, human resources, time for planning, number of participants, and impact on their host communities. As these events have grown in cost and resources required to plan them, the need to no longer have an ad hoc style of management has increased as well. Sports event management of large-scale project sizes now requires professional management teams put in place to oversee the project anywhere from ten to five years before the date of the actual competition. At this level these teams now include a high number of specially trained sports managers, individuals who have some sort of direct experience in the management and delivery of the unique aspects of a sport product such as a large event atmosphere. As these events have increased along these described lines, a natural phenomenon has occurred, namely their complexity has increased. Specifically, the complexity of the management systems designed for each one of these projects has increased with time. Each sports event of a large-scale needs to be unique, and differentiate itself from its counter-parts. This increases the amount of unique systems complexity to be found in each project’s management design. The problem posited by this thesis, and supported throughout related literature, is that as a systems complexity increases, the possibility of it experiencing a crisis increases as well. When managers or leaders find themselves facing a crisis, they are facing a worst-case-scenario. Traditional management literature (both disaster and risk management) has shown how most organizations prepare some sort of contingency planning efforts for worst-case-scenarios. However, upon further detailed review of literature, there are multiple incidents every year where a major organization experiences a crisis which fundamental alters their structure and culture negatively. This is also true of Sports Event Management efforts. A historical review of major events since the 1970s uncovers a high rate of incidents occurring that can be classified as crises. However, despite increasing the amount of time and money spent on crisis management and mitigation each year, Sport Event Organizing Committees (SEOC) seem either unable or unprepared to prevent several types of crises from occurring. The indication is that the increase in the complexity of the management systems has outdistanced the management and leadership techniques of the SEOC’s responsible for their respective events when the situation progresses too far. Therefore, this thesis posits that current crisis management techniques designed for sports event management are ineffective and/or ill-suited to deal with worst-case-scenarios. The SEOC finds itself at times either unable to process the complexity of their task environment, or unaware of how the complexity of the events unfolding around them can progress from a relatively minor risk, to a real crisis. This thesis addresses the issue of how to develop an improved Crisis Management theory of how SEOC leadership groups perceive crises borne from worst-case-scenarios. This is an important problem to address, because sports event management no longer concerns itself with athletic pursuits of excellence alone. Major-sized events have grown from budgets encompassing thousands, to potential billions of dollars. Their regularity has become intrinsic to the local economy’s annual performance. A poorly attended or organized event makes a negative impact felt by the non-sporting community as well. The largest sports events have an international media attention on them, and negative views of how that nation is not only performing but hosting, can affect the billion-dollar tourism industry of any host nation. Also, poorly planned and constructed sports infrastructure can lead to more money being wasted, rather than a legacy fund designed to enhance sporting prowess for the future. In short, these projects have major socio-economic and socio-cultural impacts on their larger communities. Improper leadership and management of these events is no longer tolerated by their various stakeholders. This thesis took the approach of an Action Science oriented Participatory Action Research (PAR) project, in that the researcher was an involved member of the participant community. This was done to gain the most in-depth, qualitative data possible. SEOC’s are tightly-knit teams and their leadership is made up of many interrelated departments. Getting inside their workings and structure at the ground level was required to fully understand the attitudes and behaviours of each individual leader when faced with a crisis management situation. The Collaborative Inquiry methodology approach was taken, because it allows for research with rather than on people. A SEOC was found which fit all of the research requirements; they were chapters. The justification and application of the methodology will follow and then an in-depth analysis and discussion of the qualitative data will be found in the preceding chapters. Finally, a conclusion of the major results and how the research objectives were met, as well as the limitations and direction for future research will be provided.
    Date of Award2012
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorDouglas Davies (Supervisor) & Mark Turner (Supervisor)

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