How to bridge the complexity gap – Theo Dawson – Medium

Perspectives on complexity

How to bridge the complexity gap

My colleagues and I have been studying the complexity gap for about 15 years now.

It all started when we were hired in 2002 by a U. S. federal agency to conduct research on what it takes for leaders to make good decisions under VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) conditions.

I’m using the term leader here, fully aware that some people might use managerinstead.

We began the project with a study of leader decision making, ultimately interviewing several hundred employees representing every level in a large federal agency’s employee hierarchy. The only group we were unable to interview were leaders at the very top.

Thinking complexity

The interviews were wrapped around a set of “wicked” workplace problems — complex problems with VUCA features and no “correct” solutions. We studied these interviews, scoring them for their complexity level with the Lectical Assessment System, while thoroughly documenting the ideas and skills demonstrated in responses (so we could construct descriptions of how ideas and skills changed from level to level).

Role complexity

As we completed the first phase of the project, which focused on thinkingcomplexity, we began developing an approach to determining role complexity, again using the Lectical Assessment System. This was an interesting challenge. We settled on an approach that started with a basic Lectical Analysis of easily observable increases in the number and complexity of stakeholder interests associated with decision making ateach higher level in the agency’s hierarchy. Then we zoomed in, examining the complexity associated with the work of different departments within the organization, and finally, the complexity associated with work in specific roles.

Comparison of the complexity level of jobs with the complexity of leader/manager’s thinking

The figure on the left shows the results of the thinking and role complexity analyses. The basic story here is that the complexity of roles increases in a linear fashion as we move up the hierarchy, but the average complexity of leaders’ thinking does not.

However, that’s not the whole story. From semi-skilled roles to entry level roles, role complexity and thinking complexity are pretty well aligned. Then there’s a flattening out of the curve from the mid- to upper-levels, and a return to growth in higher work levels that’s parallel to, but well below, the role complexity curve.

Our client wasn’t surprised by this pattern. Our client reported that the agency routinely hired for senior roles by going outside the agency — because existing employees were not developing the skills required in higher roles. We weren’t surprised either. The agency had a command and control culture. Nothing stifles development like command and control, because there is generally no role for critical reflection — essential for development — at lower levels in a command and control hierarchy.

Continued in source: How to bridge the complexity gap – Theo Dawson – Medium