Leadership 2020 Newsletter: Working in Complexity

– by Chris Corrigan, Leadership 2020 Hosting Team

Leadership has always been about wise action that lasts. Our groups, communities, and organizations are trying to create a better more sustainable future but our context—the world around us and the problems we’re facing—is full of complexity and change on a scale we haven’t seen before. Many of our modern systems failing to sustain themselves in the complexity of our times.

That’s why the Leadership 2020 program focuses so much on ways to understand, identify, and work through complex situations and surroundings. And thankfully, we have resources available to deal with the complex challenges we face—resources as old as we are: conversation, learning, relationship, community.

Many of the frameworks and models we use in the program—the Cynefin Framework, the Two Loops Model, Open Space Technology—can help us work in complexity and the resources I’m sharing below can be added to your leadership toolbox. There is a great series of videos by the author of Simple Habits for Complex Times, a great article about applying the Cynefin Framework in our daily work, and a collection of 33 Liberating Structures—novel, practical, and no-nonsense methods to foster engagement, innovation, and participation in your teams.

Remember, when it comes to complex problems, there are rarely clear finish lines. The moment we change one thing, the system changes in response. They require practice-based solutions that within an ever-shifting context. And they require leaders like you—leaders that can hold on to a core purpose and leverage a variety of approaches for moving forward. I hope the approaches below help you on your way.

Confronting complexity video series

Jennifer Garvey Berger (the author of Simple Habits for Complex Times) offers a series of videos and recordings on a range of topics—all aimed at making complexity simple to understand.

From ‘Asking different questions’ to ‘Seeing systems’ and ‘Cultivating wisdom’, the series of videos (and some helpful animations) are a great series for any Leadership 2020 participants interested in better understanding and working in complexity. (If the Cynefin Framework resonated with you during the program, you will likely appreciate this great little series.)

You can access the videos, animations, and recordings here.

Using Cynefin to help strategy

Most organizations can be quite good at solving complicated problems—either they develop the necessary skill sets through hiring and training people, or they turn to consultants or experts whose knowledge and experience can un-complicate the complicated.

But not all problems are not created equal and it is increasingly important for us to understand the true nature of the problems we’re facing and how to adjust our approach accordingly.

This article by Keith Johnston, Carolyn Coughlin, and Jennifer Garvey Berger uses the Cynefin Framework to help us understand how to better lead our teams (and ourselves) through complex problems. They use the framework to help you and I understand the difference between the predictable and the unpredictable and then offer simple and helpful approaches we can take when surrounded by the unpredictable.

This one is worth bookmarking—check out the PDF article (and the helpful appendix which breaks down the “language of complexity”) online here.

Liberating Structures: Tools for meetings

When you feel included and engaged, do you do a better job? Do you think teams in which people work well together produce better results? Have you noticed the best ideas often come from unexpected sources?

This website introduces you to Liberating Structures—easy-to-learn approaches, processes, and tools that foster participation, trust, and engagement in groups of any size. The collection of Liberating Structures (there are 33 in all) offer alternative ways to approach and design how people work together—meetings, design sessions, interviews, networking, brainstorming—than can replace or complement conventional workplace practices.

Every person involved in Leadership 2020 is interested in leading change—in their region, their organization, their team, and/or themselves. No matter where you’re focusing your efforts, you can use these Liberating Structures to help you improve the way you do your work.