Six Skills Needed to Work in Complex Organisations

We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. The response from many businesses, public, private or non-profit, often mirrors this. Contemporary organisational designs are complex by nature.  They are often multi-layered, and people work on those layers on a daily basis.  Teams form, evolve and dissolve, dependent on task and purpose.


Relationships have changed. A typical chain of command is lengthening and broadening. Specialist knowledge within the chain cedes priority to more generalist management skills and behaviours. The number of areas of specialism a leader might manage has grown over recent years.

I know this from my own direct experience as a former Head of Service. My role was Head of Youth Service. This met my specific knowledge, experience and skills. Within eighteen months, I was managing three other services – Community Development, Play and Adult Education. That was well over twelve years ago. In the United Kingdom, with the onset of austerity, this approach to a broader chain of command has expanded beyond recognition.

[Tweet "Success mean your options multiply. Size increases complexity, and complexity can confuse vision. - Andy Stanley"]

Particular skills are needed to respond to such a volatile set of circumstances. Successful leadership, outcomes and impact will depend on being able to apply these skills:-

  1. Lead and follow in collaboration – in the modern day, you need to work with others, both within and without your organisation. Work in and through partnership is hard and requires you to apply effective interpersonal skills across groups and individuals.
  2. Handle conflict – tensions abound in human organisations and they are often multiplied in complex organisms. Hone your skills in influencing and negotiating as challenges will come.
  3. Manage rapid change – many change models might work for you. Though, proper focus on vision, mission and values will always decide the best outcome. So your first priority is clarity of purpose.
  4. Relate in the digital age – welcome to the ‘Social Age’, where blue unicorn leaders are an absolute necessity, so become one. Learn to embrace and use helpful forms of technology and social media.
  5. Interpret and analyse data – now in the digital age, greater and more complex data arrives at speed. By embracing technological advances and investing in your skills and knowledge development, ‘big data’ becomes less of a challenge. Sifting data for the information that adds value to you, your team and your organisation is important to how you respond to changes as they emerge.
  6. Manage your networks – these will be both internal and external collaborators, drawn together for common purpose. You need to learn when to start, continue and leave those networks and do so keeping your relationships intact

These core skills are essential for leaders in the modern day, whether working in large, medium or small organisations. Why? It’s simple. In an ever-changing environment, achieving your ambitions may not be a singular pursuit!

What do you think? How good are your partnership skills? Do you need help with developing those?

If so, just call me. I’m always happy to listen and ready to help.

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