This discussion is very important for large organizations or communities of people, where cultural and social factors add complexity.
Short, clear article here, by Will Allen.
Research into complex systems demonstrates that they cannot be understood solely by simple or complicated approaches to evidence, policy, planning and management.
Complicated systems are all fully predictable. These systems are often engineered. We can understand these systems by taking them apart and analyzing the details. From a management point of view we can create these systems by first designing the parts, and then putting them together. However, we cannot build a complex adaptive system (CAS) from scratch and expect it to turn out exactly in the way that we intended. CAS are made up of multiple interconnected elements, and are adaptive in that they have the capacity to change and learn from experience - their history is important.
Getting people to work collectively in a coordinated fashion in areas such as poverty alleviation or catchment management is therefore better seen by agencies as a complex, rather than a complicated problem – a fact many managers are happy to acknowledge .... but somehow this acknowledgement often does not translate into different management and leadership practice.
- Role defining – setting job and task descriptions
- Decision making – find the ‘best’ choice
- Tight structuring – use chain of command and prioritise or limit simple actions
- Knowing – decide and tell others what to do
- Staying the course – align and maintain focus
- Relationship building – working with patterns of interaction
- Sense making – collective interpretation
- Loose coupling – support communities of practice and add more degrees of freedom
- Learning – act/learn/plan at the same time
- Notice emergent directions – building on what works
These approaches to influencing complex systems require changing our thinking and our practices. The challenge is that by the time we learn this, our ways of thinking and practising are largely entrenched and very difficult to adjust.