Navigating the Growing Complexity in the Organisational Environment Stellenbosch Business School Skip to main content
Complexity is a reoccurring difficulty for management in many organisations.

It reduces staff morale and retention while impeding competitiveness. According to an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) study, more than half of the executives at large companies worldwide agreed that organisational complexity reduces their revenues.

Why? When the level of intricacy exceeds our ability to handle it, we become anxious and tense. Staff who are stressed or anxious are not driven, productive, or creative.

Many workplace and business scenarios have outgrown our cognitive capacity, and our odds of anticipating industries, societies, and working conditions are slimmer than ever.

What can be done? First and foremost, we need to understand:


What is Organisational Complexity?

Defining organisational complexity can be just as complex as the idea itself. Imagine that you work for a huge corporation. This corporation not only has multiple divisions but numerous projects in progress with several staff members working on them all within those divisions. This makes your company a complex organisation.

In essence, the degree to which several entities within an organisation differ from one another is referred to as organisational complexity; it refers to the total number of people working in a division, project, or team. If it has a large corporate structure or system, it’s considered complex.


How Do I Know If My Company Is Complex?

There are a number of criteria that would make your business complex; some of them are:

  • Customers, suppliers, regulators, investors, the media, and competitors are just a few of the stakeholders.
  • Divisions, subsidiaries, and joint ventures are examples of organisational structures.
  • Several people are involved in the completion of a task.
  • There are multiple steps in a process that must be followed in order to complete a task.

With the above in mind, it’s important to note that just because you have a large staff base doesn’t necessarily mean your organisation is complex. A school, for example, is seen as a less complex organisation than a hospital simply because a hospital requires a wide range of specialists and doctors to function successfully.

Now that you know what organisational complexity is, here are 3 key tips for navigating the growing complexity in the organisational environment:


Tip 1: Be Prepared For The Worst And Hope For The Best

When it comes to complexity, being ready for unexpected surprises and changing your point of view or perspective when the situation calls for it is essential. When understanding is more of a continuous process than a “thing” or conclusion, being present, open-minded and ready for new information, alternative views and conflicting points of view is an efficient way to work.


Tip 2: Break Complexities Into Bite-Sized and Metaphor-Laced Chunks

People all learn and comprehend in completely different ways; we don’t all speak a single, linear learning language. Make complexities easier for your team to digest and use metaphors, analogies, symbols, and archetypes as a part of your explanation process.

The metaphor, for example, has a lengthy history, dating back to 2,500 BC. Through iconic figures like Homer and Milton, humankind developed these tools for expressing complicated ideas, abilities especially useful for efficiently comprehending and conveying complex situations that often include nonverbal, oblique, or otherwise difficult-to-understand processes.


Tip 3: Don’t Get Stuck Over Analysing, Just Do

In a society with infinite access to resources, data and answers, we often find it difficult, if not paralysing, when we can’t find a clear answer. We may become overwhelmed, riddled with self-doubt and completely unable to act or progress. In these instances, it’s better to “just do” instead of spiralling down the search engine rabbit hole.

Trial and error can often be a more effective way to problem-solve complexities.

Imagine that you’re faced with a long, incredibly tangled and knotted-up rope. Trying to figure out how to untangle the ball of knots is a waste of time; there may be no pattern, reason or rhyme to it. Instead, diving in and attempting to untie the ball of knots little by little may get you closer to untangling the rope and even reveal separate chunks of interrelated knots you never knew were there. You can’t reason your way through it; instead, you must act your way through it, knot by knot.


Tip 4: There Is No I In Team

In general, business owners and CEOs may have a limited understanding of how complicated their organisations have become. They aren’t exposed to the day-to-day operational challenges that their staff experience.

This is why creating an environment in which employees aren’t hesitant to raise concerns about tasks that are unclear, communications that are unnecessary, over-analysis, or other poor management techniques is essential. Encouraging team members to speak up in ways that hold the company accountable and prioritise the bottom line or the meeting of goals is critical to navigating organisational complexity.


Want To Know More About Navigating Organisational Complexity?

We recommend that you enrol in one of our MPhil Futures Studies at Stellenbosch Business School. This course will provide you with the strategic foresight you need to make long-term decisions, minimise risk, and see opportunities – all skills that strategists and senior executives need in order to navigate organisational complexity.

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