Organisations need to create time and space for senior managers and leaders to consider the type of problems faced today. Read more.
Complex challenges do not conform to traditional analysis of cause and effect. They exhibit two characteristics that businesses hate: ambiguity and uncertainty. The people who struggle most to address complex challenges are those who have developed within the system. Usually, leaders have earned their stripes by solving problems categorised as complicated. They tend to hire technical experts like themselves to help. But solutions to complicated issues do not work in the complex space. Organisations need someone from outside the system — or someone inside with the capacity to think outside the system.
A number of approaches can have a dramatic and positive impact on addressing complex business challenges. Some of these include:
When you and your team think about a complex problem, observe what metaphors you are using. These stories are windows into the mental models that we hold, which can often be limiting and emotionally draining. Try conjuring up an image that is positive or even exhilarating, such as herding sheep; steering a skidding car, drifting in a hot-air balloon; hiking to an unmarked crossroads.
It’s important when addressing complex challenges to stay positive, alert and curious. People who practise Neuro-Lingustic Programming talk about resourceful states; others talk about mindfulness. A powerful approach is to take an attitude of enquiry, observing what is happening at various places around the system, posing questions and experimenting. Working with diverse stakeholders improves the quality of data.
Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts. Creating synergy means generating arrangements that benefit a number of parties, or stakeholders — sometimes referred to as a ‘system win’. Synergy comes through collaboration. To engage stakeholders they need to be involved in defining a purpose in which they can believe, with values that they share, rules for interacting and tools to help them think together. A powerful ingredient is difference. With trust, we can use this for creative conflict. Working with opposites and connecting across difference allows us to integrate insights and create new possibilities — to innovate.
Systems thinking involves exploring the interrelation between elements, and how change at one point creates an effect at other places — the so-called system dynamics. It’s important to define and explore the problem, resisting the temptation to solve it. Understanding, or ‘seeing’ the whole system requires us to probe it at many different points, which we can do by questioning everything together and sharing the experiences and data of other people inside and outside. Processes of action and reflection facilitate learning and incremental change.
Create time and space for senior managers and leaders to consider the type of problems they are facing. Consider bringing in help from someone outside your system.