Traditional organizational structures can be stubbornly inflexible and woefully under-optimized for cross-departmental project collaboration. Leaders seeking to innovate within the confines of these structures often have to empower themselves to create ad hoc agile teams that foster creative problem-solving, unlock social capital, and generate value early and often. As the President & CEO of a nonprofit science center in the Midwest, I have discovered that some of our most valuable ideas have sprouted and bloomed because distributed leaders, operating essentially as intrapreneurs, discovered ways to use their informal social networks to break through silos and successfully collaborate across departmental lines. But I have often wondered, what would happen if our distributed leaders could go one step further and collectively redraw the existing lines of organizational structure to foster better collaboration? The following action research study, facilitated during the outbreak of COVID-19, honors distributed leadership and explores how online learning circles can be used as intentional structures for agile project work in virtual spaces to transform traditional organizational frameworks from being hierarchical and siloed, to being flat and flexible, while sparking innovation, promoting intrapreneurship, and creating a collaborative culture in the workplace.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Leadership; Action research -- Case studies; Teams in the workplace

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Margaret Riel