Leading In A Time Of Complexity And Chaos (Part 2)

Whenever companies tackle complexity, they will ultimately find some individuals who seem less troubled by it than others. This is not surprising. People are different: some freeze like deer in the headlights in the face of ambiguity, uncertainty, complex roles, and unclear accountabilities; others are able to get their work done regardless. Companies need to locate the pockets of individual strength and weakness in order to respond intelligently. Although some people can deal with complexity innately, we now know that others can be trained to develop what we call “ambidextrous” capabilities – the ability to tolerate ambiguity and actively manage complexity. Such skills will enable employees to create and use networks within organizations to build relationships and help overcome poor processes, bridge organizational silos, or manage whatever value-creating pockets of complexity their companies decide to maintain.”  -McKinsey & Company via Putting Organizational Complexity in its Place

Organizational learning, capacity-building, and adaptability cannot afford to cease or stall in the midst of the complexity and chaos that accompanies any disruptive change.

Which, unfortunately, is the very thing that often happens.  

Especially as the constant tension and growing sense of complexity and chaos expelled from the current disruptive forces entering the organizational gates will tend to compel most individuals and their organizations to recoil back into the safety and cocoon of the known. To the safety of past practices and processes.

It is as natural an organizational reaction as the fight or flight response that has been deeply imprinted upon our individual DNA throughout the ages. As individuals and organizations find themselves face to face with these often disruptive and turbulent change forces, they can find themselves becoming more enamored with the past, while being equally determined to insulate themselves safely from those forces that are bearing down upon them and their organization.

Even to the point of it serving as an impediment and/or detriment to future effectiveness and relevance.

Today’s leaders, in the face of the current circumstances, must be even more empathetic to the learning gaps and needs of those within and throughout their learning ecosystem, as well as being more aware of how those learning gaps and needs are being attended to and fulfilled. Especially when the current circumstances are less than compatible towards ongoing growth and capacity-building.

Today’s leaders will have to be much more intentional towards the design of their systems and strategies incorporated, amidst the undergirding uncertainty brought on by the current complexity and varying forms of disruptive and adaptive challenges, in order to enable and support any type of sustained individual and organizational learning.

Which will require modern leaders to be much more cognizant of how those within the organization are determining to individually support their own learning and capacity, beyond any formal organizational structures, to adapt towards the disruptive change that is currently being faced. In the midst of growing complexity and chaos wrought on by change, individuals within the organization, when lacking clear objectives and targets, without being supported by an array of strategies and processes, will move beyond formal organizational networks to tapping into their informal networks. Which, while being supportive for individual capacity and adaptation, can add to the growing complexity and chaos inherent within the organization during this time. Which in turn, can take both individuals and the organization off-course.

As ideas and strategies crop up informally and begin to spread, especially during times of disruptive and turbulent change and adaptation, they often fail to scale in any effective manner across the organization. Most often, because leaders and the organization are unaware or unwilling to acknowledge informal networks and innovation that is scaling up within those networks.

When goals and objectives are not clearly communicated, when clarity and design are lacking or haphazard, instead of scale and spread, ideas and strategies that are showing worth, often fail to be vetted at the organizational core and find themselves relegated and siloed into pockets of positive deviance, most often pushed to the edges of the organization. Thereby, slowing opportunities for innovation to emerge, evolve and spread more efficiently and effectively across the organization in response to current conditions, diminishing individual and organizational agility and adaptation.

As leaders design for organizational adaptation in times of disruptive or great change, it will require an acknowledging of not only the organization’s formal networks, but the informal networks that are having deep influence on how individuals and the organization adapt in these VUCA-infused environments.

As MITSMR share in Designing Effective Knowledge Networks, “Knowledge networks are clearly vital to our connected world. Yet our research indicates that we, as leaders, must be thoughtful about how we design and manage them. Though much network behavior is emergent, the way network leaders catalyze action makes a difference.”

When leaders are more aware of how those within the organization are connecting with, accessing and utilizing both formal and informal networks, they will be able to see how that access is leading effecting pockets and patterns of new, novel and emerging innovation in the midst of the current change forces. Leaders can allow those understandings and knowledge to help them guide these pockets towards organizational goals and objectives. It will allow leaders to design structures and processes that effectively utilize that knowledge of what is emerging to determine more efficient and effective methods towards scaling and spreading those strategies and behaviors across the organizational ecosystem.

In effect, allowing the organizational edges and the organizational core to interact in ways that are more fluid, dynamic, and impactful. It is in this interaction between the core and the edges that more agile and adaptive mindsets and thinking are infused across the organization, providing a more positive response to the current disruptive change forces that are being faced.

As McKinsey&Co puts forth, “Executives contemplating a reorganization shouldn’t focus on formal organizational structures so much that they ignore informal communication channels and opinion leaders. By understanding the networks that employees use to get work done, executives leading organizational change efforts can harness, rather than bump up against, the power of invisible but highly influential webs of relationships.”

As the organization becomes more open to adapting their structures and processes to enhance their ability to learn, connect, and build-capacity in the midst disruptive change, complexity and chaos can become much more approachable and manageable. Allowing the organization to infuse and ossify the structures, processes, strategies, and behaviors that can effectively spread and scale the flow of ideas from these formal and informal networks into viable and effective organizational change.

As leaders become more open to recognizing the informal networks that reside alongside the formal networks in organizations, they will be better equipped to support the tension and pull of both networks while attempting to evolve and adapt in response. A recognition that will provide those within the organization a greater understanding of their role within the change. Creating a form of loose and tight within the organizational system and structures that allows individuals to flex and adapt more positively to not only current circumstances, but towards building the capacity and autonomy to meet the demands of the change.

“Executive embarking on a transformation can resemble career commercial air pilots thrust into the cockpit o a fighter jet. They are still flying a plan, but they have been trained to prioritize safety, stability, and efficiency and therefore lack the tools and pattern-recognition experience to respond appropriately to the demands of combat. Yet because they are still behind the controls, they do not recognize the different threats and requirements the new situation presents.”  -McKinsey & Company via Transformation with a Capital T


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