Containing Complexity

If you’ve been privy to the human dynamics of being in a family, you’ll be au fait with complexity. Often it’s easy to avoid human dynamics because it’s hard to understand. But it can be very useful not to avoid it because we can use complexity in creative process, and as part of a strategy for change.

If we see the organisation, as a machine – easy and clear, we are given the illusion of control. Planned change, a project plan, a clear outline for change or creation gives us secure and certain answers. Then real life happens. Without understanding of complexity, plans are valueless.

A complexity approach requires stepping outside of silos, flat hierarchical structure, and flexibility. Organic systems, unlike machines, can’t be controlled. Their properties aren’t planned, but appear unpredictably as a result of complex interdependencies. This isn’t cause and effect, its non-linear. Have you ever provided all the right circumstances for a plant to grow, and seen it wither slowly in the pot? Or forgotten all about a poor plant, only to find that surprisingly, it’s survived. If you’ve a lack of green fingers, as I have you might relate to this!

We can’t control what emerges but we can grasp opportunities through creating structure, establishing regular practice around emerging positive changes. Just as experimenting with a few ingredients can result in a signature dish that requires a recipe, or a marriage institutionalises a once emerging relationship, we can create containers for emergent change. Changes, whether in families or organisations happen not through long-term planning, but by people reacting to the circumstances that come to them. Most organisations don’t know what is coming – who the new leader will be, what next year’s strategy will be, what the next restructure will bring.

To achieve this emergent approach to strategy, this adoption of complexity theory we must encourage the emergence of creativity and innovation. We must allow experimentation and accidents, notice them, nurture them and provide containers for them. Ultimately we must let the system, the collection of people, neurons and the unpredictable nature of collective conscience get on with doing what it does best –unpredictably creating new things. 

So what’s emerging around you, that you are going to contain?




Pain and Voice

I used to go running as a child. I remember the heat and pain in my sternum, the hot blood pumping around my head, in the winter my hands itching under my gloves.  My Dad and I used to run together a lot, the rhythm of our trainers pounding the ground together. It was through running that I learnt to push through pain, push it down and keep going through gritted teeth, ignore it and not notice it to get through the burn.

I wonder how many leaders deploy the same technique when managing complex change in their organisations. Do you grit your teeth and push through? Or pay attention to the pain, the unheard voices? How important is it to notice our own discomfort, as well as the discomfort with in our system?

I've met many a leader who sees strength in sticking to their guns, delivery focused, rarely swaying from plans. Useful for seeing through delivery of an objective in large and complex systems. Not so useful for agility and adapting when things change. Which in a complex system, is all the time. The world, as we know is full of uncertainty and unpredictability. We’re not dealing with linear processes, just like any large system.  

Pain tells us something, as a felt physical sensation it draws our attention to be more present and embodied. We notice and experience what the system is experiencing. We might create a moment to reflect on how to restore. How useful this is as a diagnostic tool, something to bring our conscious to our cognitive dissonance. If we ignore the voices expressing pain, those same voices are very likely to stall any change process we’re trying to realise. We move towards what we pay attention to. Just noticing pain is a useful compass to check where we’re going. Hearing our own unheard voice, as well as our systems’ is one of the most effective tools we have.

Does something hurt in your organisation? Get in touch for a free consultation: 07852 140342.


Followship and Gender

Last week I met with the inspirational Angela Peacock, Chair of the People Development Team ( ) who specialise in building inclusive cultures that drive higher productivity and organisational performance. On International Women’s Day, I was interested in the rate of progress for women in the talent pipeline and how inclusion makes a difference to an organisations performance.

The Equal Opportunities Commission shows women are still well behind men in key success measures including numbers of women at senior levels in organisations. According to recent reports, those most likely to be discriminated in the job market are women with children under 11. Women still make up a very small proportion of top leadership roles.

When we discuss gender issues in leadership, is it about hitting targets and quotas, or are we interested in questions of leadership style, culture, and how we recognise power, and whether the qualities of alpha male leaders are the same as what makes businesses successful? In order to achieve boardroom success, have women had to become just like men? Do we ever hear of the behaviours of the alpha woman? We have typically been conditioned to believe that emotions are not welcome in the workplace and that leadership performance is all about cold and logical understanding and tough decision making. Research tells us that a lack of interpersonal skills is one of the main factors in leadership failure. With leaders in organisations spending up to 80% of their time talking and understanding others, changing the nature of how people communicate with each other has a huge impact. So is the question not whether women are ʻman enoughʼ to work at the top of organisations, but whether a leader can flex in to the traditionally female domain of communication, relational and emotional understanding.

So what will bring about a faster rate of change than the tortoise-led progress made to date? Don’t we all carry in us some idea that leadership is a quality you have or you don’t, as a fixed entity? In reality leadership has something to do with the connection and relationship between leader and follower. And so perhaps the responsibility lies with the volumes of followers, us all as followers, to change the situation for female leaders to reassess what we expect of leaders, and that doesn’t need to mean alpha male. Is this where the conversation, and the dialogue within organisations needs to go next?

To further explore gender and leadership within your organisation, and how it can influence your productivity and organisational health, get in touch for an initial conversation with me.

The confidence of doing

In beginning my new venture, setting up as an independent OD consultant this winter, I’ve faced a number of threatening fears and perceived dangers. I’m leaving a well paid job to face an unknown income. What if I crash and burn in a self employed quantum of despair?  If it weren’t for my excellent coach, I would have in all likelihood got stuck in a vortex of procrastination. I was reminded of Lynn Isabella’s “evolving Interpretations as a change unfolds” – the patterns of understanding that people experience whilst part of a change process. My mind was stuck in the aniticipation stage, spreading rumours and filling in the vacuum of activity with fantasy, without clear understanding of what my new world was going to look like.

We make our paradigms as a result of our experience of ourselves, others and the world. They help us to interact with the world without having to constantly determine what we see and how we should react. But when we notice when they’re hindering us, and not helping us it’s a powerful thing that can bring personal change, avoiding stagnation by expanding our self awareness.

So like an exposure programme, I confronted the fear I was least anxious about. I created this website.  I was reminded that once you begin doing, rather than worrying, you raise your tolerance for frustrations and concerns and with real life exposure realise it’s not that bad, it is possible and achievable.  This is a great technique in coaching for raising confidence and self belief over a period of time. By avoiding avoiding, you focus the mind on what you want to achieve rather than what might go wrong – and you manifest that which you focus on.