Relevance of the principles of complexity in organisational leadership

Organisations are increasingly required to demonstrate sensitivity, cohesiveness, identity and tolerance to the varying implications and challenges posed by internal and external environmental factors. The external and internal environments portend either positive or negative impact on the strategic plans of any organization. The organisational abilities to build relationships and create community with sense of purpose and vision are wholly pegged on the leadership strengths and goodwill.

Emphasis and continuous pursuit of knowledge, perception of the organisation as community of people and perpetual endurance are the characteristics that define learning organisations.

As such, organisations are complex organic evolving entities with unlimited capacities to learn, create and pursue their own processes and objectives (Mitleton-Kelly, 2003).

Studies in to the multiplicity of factors that characterise the success or failure of organisational management styles and strategies have given rise to varying arguments as to the implications of management and consequences of leadership in organisations. As Mintzberg (1973) rightly noted, managers job as described and taught in business schools are flawed.

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This view is further emphasized by Zaleznik (1977) with his observation that whereas managers are inclined towards rigid processes, planning and forms, leaders are substantive, visionary and inspirational.

This essay seeks to justify the truth of Mintzberg’s assertion as demonstrated by the principles of complexity. Theory and background Leadership and management strategies vary according to personality orientation and organisational structures, as demonstrated by the different supportive and contradicting arguments on theoretical concepts regarding organisational strategies that have been floated by management practitioners and theorists alike.

Scientific and complex organisational strategies are commonly associated with organisational management theories which include but not limited to: organisational systems theory, chaos theory complexity theory and organisational development model (Rhydderch et al.

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, 2006). The various theoretical concepts effectively demystify the complexities emanating from the composition of organisations as the sum total of interactions across structures, people, values and objectives.

The organisational development model focuses on the human aspects of organisation, taking full recognition of the fact that the nature of interactions and attitude among people within an organisation impact on the final outcome of the organisations performance (Rhydderch et al. , 2006). The model emphasizes on the need to align individual aspirations to the overall organisational structures as a means for bolstering effective change management, because the persistence of variance between individual and organisation aspirations portend negative impact on the formulation and implementation of strategies in organisations.

The organisational development model further acknowledges the significance working groups and teams in organisations as effective tools that streamline individual aspirations towards the general objectives of organisations through the gradual application of working and co-operation strategies designed to achieve flexibility, free flow of information, empowerment and ultimately, improved performance (Rhydderch et al.

, 2006). Systems theory places emphasis on the interaction of different components of organisations, with the assertion that no single particular part of an integrated system can achieve effectiveness without the proper and measured input of the other parts of the system (Rhydderch et al. , 2006). As such, all parts of a system are significant to the successful operation of the entire system.

The implications of the systems theory in organisational management are manifested in all operational aspects including infrastructure, technology goals, tasks and resources all of which bear equal, competing and non-competing significance the overall performance of the organisation. According to Rhydderch et al (2006), the introduction and management of organisational strategies can be effected by simply introducing combined or independent alterations on the measurement of the key organisational variables as spelt out by the systems theory.

Therefore, systems theory provides the basis for measuring different performance variables in organisations to determine the scope and impact of strategies and transformations. A review of the complexity theory reveals the acknowledgement of perpetual dynamism in organisations as the final outcome of the multi-directional orientation of relationship across systems (Mitleton-Kelly, 2003). Therefore, the interactions of different elements within a system result to emergence of new sets of norms and behaviour.

By and large, the emerging transformations usually result from interactions amongst localised agents within a system and between the system and environmental forces (Barnes, 2005). Barnes (2005) is emphatic that the complexity theory forms the basis against which organisations can match any planned transformations to norms and practices within organisations with subsequent efforts to promote an understanding of the new norms so as to ensure that interactions between localised parts of the complex system are not interfered with.

Definitely, this may involve dedicated review of current operational structures and processes to identify the strong points and necessary improvements. Analysis of the principles of complexity The difficulty to accurately predict the outcomes and implications of organisational current and future strategies arises from the susceptibility of organisational planning to unforeseen constraints and changes. Therefore organisational management demands the acknowledgement of possible setbacks in the implementation and achievement of set and projected objectives.

As Zaleznik (1977) observes, the value of any strategic leadership lies in the ability to fully achieve effective and objective reference to the environment but also the viability in focusing minds and guiding work teams in taking particular actions from informed perspectives. Mintzberg (1973) is emphatic that strategy is a concept that should always tailored through emerging processes, effectively portraying as a distraction the tendency towards formal strategy analyses.

In his study and findings on the departmental level strategies and planning for eight different oil companies which demonstrated continuous transformations in strategising, Axelrod & Cohen (1999) identified that organizations are decreasing reliance on the business as usual analyses and forecasts and increasing dependency in organisational factors such as consultative leadership, information sharing and coordination.

To this end, the 10 principles of complexity as spelt out by Mitleton-Kelly (2003) are seen as the essential practices that influence the achievement of optimized organisational adaptation to environmental conditions characterised by constant change. The principle of connectivity and interdependence acknowledges that behavioural complexities emerge from interactions and interconnectivities among different elements which constitute a system and its environment (Mitleton-Kelly, 2003, p.

5). From an organisational perspective, this means that actions or decisions by any single component in the chain of interactions in a system initiate disequilibrium in the operations of the entire organisation, be it people, teams, groups or stakeholders in the organisation.

The aspect of connectivity brings into picture interrelationships in the organisational symbolic representations such as artefacts, vales and missions as well as process facilitation tools such as information technology (Mitleton-Kelly, 2003) and intellect in the form of implicit or tacit knowledge that give rise to varying levels of influential and interdependent complexity that result to new way of doing things (Bokeno, 2008).

The principle of dissipative structures is also portends significant relevance to organisational leadership and management because it defines the order and flow of information and initiatives relative to the organisational environment and which, if relegated from the priorities of the equilibrium, give room to the rise of new parallel order and structures.

Mitleton-Kelly (2003) cites the example of a Benard cell whereby spontaneity of cell movements in self-reorganisation in response to stimulus changes demonstrates the intricacies of the complex systems such that controllable, uncontrollable, predicted and unpredicted changes resulting from micro-level interactions in organisations will always be accompanied by self-initiated mechanism to eliminate any disequilibrium caused by the changes in organisational balance.

The principle of feedback has also been identified as a constituent of the complexity model which defines the impact of communication processes in organisations. As Mitleton-Kelly (2003) observes, positive feedback has the potential of motivation and sustained efforts while negative impact can drive morale to its lowest. Citing the example of the effect of temperatures on thermostat monitors Mitleton-Kelly (2003) notes that any upward or downward adjustment of heat initiates opposite response set to eliminate the emerging gaps aimed at reinstating the desired optimality levels.

In organisational terms, positive feedback initiates progressiveness by amplifying the emerging gaps as opposed to the deviating effects of negative feedbacks. These three principles present tricky situations for organisations where the aspects of two-way communication, coordination, and inclusiveness as key in propagating organisational strategies, challenges that require managers to demonstrate advanced skills in leadership. Mintzberg (1973) observed that organisational managers are normally faced with unpredictable yet delicate situations that demand implicit, dynamic, ad hoc and flexible strategising.

As Mintzberg observed, managerial duties transform managers into selective manipulators of information with preference for live and concrete situations simply because the environment in which they work is largely influenced by stimulus initiated reactions to situations (1973, pp. 38-39). The environment is best mirrored by the McKinsey 7 S model which stipulates that organizations are not single structures, but rather constituencies of seven different elements namely: structures, strategies, systems, shared values, styles, skills and staff (Peters & Waterman, 1982).

The McKinsey 7 S model further suggests that the seven different elements can further be split into soft S’s and hard S’s. Hard S’s is a category that consists of factors such as systems, structure and strategy and they are considered to be conspicuous in the organization and are traceable to the mission statements, strategy plans, corporate structures and routine documents of organizations (Peters & Waterman, 1982).

Organizations that create proportionate balance among all the seven elements of the McKinsey 7-S model stand to achieve greater synergy in their overall management processes. Indeed (Peters & Waterman, 1982) acknowledge that organisational management is not a perfect progression towards the achievement of rigidly set goals but rather a flexible learning circle that is subject to errors but designed to satisfy definite objectives.

Therefore, organisational strategies should always take account of the inevitable and demonstrate flexibility to modifications and adjustments in strategy formulation, implementation or resource allocations. Conclusion The arguments presented by the complexity principles resonate with the tenets of organisational strategies. Strategic management is viewed to be more or less procedural and spatial pursuit of organisational objectives, a definition that is in tandem with the management and leadership processes organisation.

As a matter of fact, management processes involve sequential progress towards the achievement of targeted results, with the ultimate objectives being the efficiency of processes by eliminating wasteful phases and components (Rhydderch et al. , 2006). The efficiency perspective is what informs the philosophy behind the strategic management because it defines the formulation and prioritisation of organisational objectives and the subsequent allocation of resources for implementation of the pre-determined plans.

Evidently, unlike the sequential progression expected of a management process, organisational leadership assumes the position of a learning organisation and subsequently sets the basis for formulating and implementing strategies in integrative and complimentary fashion out of recognition of the reality that knowledge cannot always be assumed to be perfect, subject to the prevailing conditions in the external and internal organisational environment.

Contrary to the inherent assumptions in organisational management, the successful implementation of current and visionary strategies is dependent on the strengths and demonstration of leadership which focus on eliminating likely functional lapses in the environment that portend failure in achievement overall growth objectives. As opposed to rigid organisational management styles (Zaleznik, 1977), flexible and informed leadership is perceived to be the ultimate solution to the successful achievement of both short-term and long-term objectives in organisations.

List of References Axelrod, R. & Cohen, M. (1999) Harnessing complexity: organizational implications of a scientific frontier, New York: Free Press. Barnes, B. (2005) Managing change 4th ed. , FT Prentice Hall. Bokeno, M. (2008) ‘Complexity: an alternative paradigm for teamwork development’. Journal of Development and Learning Organizations, vol. 22, no. 6, pp. 7-10. Mintzberg, H. (1973) The nature of managerial work, New York: Harper and Row. Mitleton-Kelly, E.

(2003) Complex systems and evolutionary perspectives on organisations: the application of complexity theory to organisations, Elsevier. Peters, T. J. & Waterman, R. H. (1982) In search of excellence: Lessons from America’s best run companies, New York: Harper & Row. Plsek, P. E. (2007) ‘Working paper: some emerging principles for managers of complex adaptive systems (CAS)’, Directed Creativity (Internet). Available from: <http://www. directedcreativity. com/pages/ComplexityWP. html> (Accessed 3 May 2009). Rhydderch, M. , Elwyn, G.

, Marshal, M. & Grol, R. (2006) ‘Organisational change theory and the use of indicators in general practice’, BMJ Journal, pp. 215-221. Sweeney, K. (2004) ‘Reflections on the fourth exeter complexity in health and social care conference September 22-24, exeter university’. British Journal of General Practice, (Internet). Available from: <http://www. pubmedcentral. nih. gov/articlerender. fcgi? artid=1324944> (Accessed 3 May 2009). Zaleznik, A. (1977). ‘Managers and leaders: are they different? ’ Harvard Business Review.

Updated: Apr 13, 2021
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Relevance of the principles of complexity in organisational leadership essay
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