Combating Complexity as an Adaptive Leader

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3 Ways to Navigate Complexity in Your Organization

Challenges for project leaders continue to emerge. While polishing your technical skills can help you manage the scope, budget, and schedule of projects, developing an adaptive mindset and skill set can help you better handle challenges you might not have encountered before.

One growing challenge project leaders are facing is the increasing complexity of businesses. Complexity can be defined as the practices—such as process or management technologies—that make it more complicated or take longer for customers, employees, or partners to obtain information or get results¹. However, complexity also presents itself in the external marketplace, in the form of political, regulatory, and economic shifts. Being able to understand and adapt to both internal and external complexity is a prominent business challenge, and one that many companies report having failed at.

So what can be done?

Learning to be an adaptive leader is key to handling the rise of complexity in today’s business environment. Here are 3 ways to navigate complexity in your organization:

Be Flexible

Organizations that are successful at handling increasing complexity report that the ability to remain flexible and adapt to changing business practices is critical. Successful leaders are taking stock of where complexity is affecting business, and taking steps to do something about it, rather than attempting to use the same practices on new problems. Often new challenges require new ways of thinking, and implementing different adaptive methodologies, such as design thinking, can help lead to new solutions.

Leverage Technology

Take advantage of IT systems. While it may take some work, implementing IT systems that streamline processes and adapt to new challenges have the potential to not only manage complexity, but help simplify it. More importantly, organizations must understand that their products and services must emerge and evolve with the technology, and that updating outdated platforms isn’t just a box-checking exercise.

Shift the Culture

One of the biggest roadblocks when trying to navigate complexity can actually be company culture. Opening up communication between leadership and departments facilitates the opportunity for clearer management and also promotes greater ownership and accountability among all ranks. If no one thinks an issue is their problem, or no one knows that there is even an issue, it’s much easier for complexity to get out of hand and negatively affect business. Shifting to a culture in which a diversity of opinions and perspectives are heard can help organizations better problem solve when what has worked in the past no longer does.

The increase in complexity is something businesses are giving more attention to as it continues to impact organizations more and more. Though it can be an intimidating problem, honing adaptive leadership skills can help you better understand how complexity affects your projects and allow you to develop the right approach to tackle it head on.

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¹Harvard Business Review, “The Business Case for Managing Complexity,” April 20, 2016,

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TwentyEighty Strategy Execution is a global leader in organizational training addressing the inherently volatile and complex business environment that now requires a more holistic and adaptive approach to managing projects.  We enable people to close the strategy execution gap and drive higher organizational performance by strengthening project leadership skills. By combining the best of cutting-edge university research and proven business techniques, we deliver training designed to increase alignment and engagement across teams, business units, or the entire enterprise. Learn more today at
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