Management myths – new rules for a more complex and connected world
In our work with large complex organizations,we have learned that beyond a certain level of complexity and connectedness the rules of leadership, collaboration and personal effectiveness change.
Organizations are becoming larger and more distributed – and scale, distance, diversity and business complexity increase. At the same time they are becoming more integrated, matrixed and connected. work flows horizontally across the old silos of function and geography. Communication technology, common processes and shared ERP and other systems coordinate distributed work.
The cost and difficulty of cooperation increase, cultural and other forms of diversity mean that a “one size fits all” style of leadership does not enthuse everyone. Timezones, the lack of face to face interaction ,and communication through technology permanently change the nature of relationships, trust and many practical management interactions.
Despite this a lot of academics and consultants propose that more of the same old solutions will help. They propose that more teamwork and communication will help when already more than half of team meetings, conference calls and emails are irrelevant and much more expensive and difficult to organise globally.
Many take the prescriptions they offered in their domestic markets or in simpler organizations and assume that they will work everywhere; some just add a couple of slides on communications technology to a traditional team building course course and call it “virtual teams”.
But working at this level of complexity changes the rules in fundamental ways, here are some examples
Traditional management myth one: We need to clarify goals and roles and get fully aligned.
Complex companies know: If we could be fully aligned we wouldn’t need a matrix, a matrix enshrines different perspectives and priorities. As a result we have competing goals and higher levels of ambiguity; a fixed set of goals and rigid role definitions are unrealistic. We need to create clarity where we can but get used to ambiguity, dilemmas and conflict.
Traditional management myth two: Teamwork and more collaboration is the answer.
Complex companies know: Teamwork is an expensive and complex way to get things done globally and there are simpler ways to collaborate. Not everyone has to be involved in everything. Half of the meetings and calls we attend are irrelevant and we need to be more selective about attending them.
Traditional management myths three: It’s a lack of communication.
Complex companies know: By some studies managers spend 85% of their time communicating, the answer cannot be more of it. 75% of some forms of communication like emails is irrelevant. A key skill is deciding what not to pay attention to. Let’s cut irrelevant “push” communication and create more opportunities for 2 way conversations not more broadcasts of information we don’t need.
Traditional management myth four: Leaders need to know everything, inspire, empower and show the way.
Complex companies know: In a global organization senior leaders are rarely the experts on local cultures, priorities and issues, they cant be available 24/7 and escalation adds cost, delay and dissatisfaction. Effective control is exercised close to the action so decentralised leadership and control are required. As a result leaders no longer know everything that is going on. A matrix is effectively led from the middle, not the top, as this is where the complex tradeoffs and dilemmas are actually managed.
There are other differences but I hope these few, counter-cultural as they are to many, illustrate that we need a root and branch redesign of leadership, collaboration and effectiveness skills in today’s complex matrixed, virtual and global organizations. Encouraging people to apply the solutions that worked in simpler times can actually be counterproductive. Managers striving to increase teamwork and communication may in reality slow things done and create unnecessary cost and confusion.
We need to learn some new ways of working and to unlearn some techniques and be more sceptical and discerning about those that have become too expensive or complex to be worth doing.
- Join our matrix management group on on LinkedIn where we discuss some of these issues – there’s a handy link on the right hand side of this page (on most devices)
- Contact us do discuss how we can help your leadership programs develop