Human beings are good at creating increasingly complex structures – particularly in the business world. We’re constantly adding new layers, of command and control, process and regulation, performance measurement and development. All of this is designed ultimately, to raise productivity, and engagement. But sometimes this increasing complexity actually has the opposite effect.

 

The soft approach

So, what do we do to combat this? As managers and leaders, we often take an approach that focuses on people’s relationships, which sees us trying to bring people closer together by encouraging them to like each other more, to feel more of a common bond and to work for each other’s benefit. However, a recent TED talk by Boston Consulting Group’s Yves Morieux suggests that even this might not work. The example he gives is of how caring more about his wife’s feelings has led him to have two televisions in his house, so that he doesn’t need to have the difficult conversations that would be required if they had to negotiate over what they both want to watch on one. Yves’ point is that businesses actually need to have these types of tricky negotiations in order to be successful, and so caring more about each other doesn’t help this to happen.

Less complexity, more understanding

His answer to addressing this complexity in modern business, and becoming more effective as leaders, boils down to two simple approaches. The first is to understand properly what other people actually do. This is about thoroughly getting under the skin of their role, and understanding its value. The second part of his approach is to make managers into ‘integrators’ who have enough responsibility and an interest in the business that allows them to understand how they can make other people work together effectively. To do this properly requires bringing people closer to the action – getting rid of the obscuring layers of measurement, process and system-speak to allow people to see directly how the component parts of your business fit together.

Ultimately, this clarity empowers people to make their own judgements and to use their own talents to understand how everyone in the organisation contributes to your company’s overall success – and as leaders, that must be an aspiration we should all wish for.