Work Complexity is determined by the number of factors, the rate of change of those factors and the ease of identification of the factors in a situation (Jaques 1998)
Within your work, there are two levels of complexity:
- The complexity inherent in your role. The position that you fill in work. For example, Customer data technician, Family Counseling Specialist, and Director of Manufacturing.
- The complexity you handle at a given time. The number of tasks and difficulty within each task. The longer the time-span ‘by-when’ of the expected completion time, the more complex the task. How you look at parts of the Goal, separate pieces to see how they may fit together, & when faced with challenges, how you navigate those challenges.
Examining the complexity of the person, task, and work is under constant scrutiny in teams.
Think about your manager
- How do they handle ambiguous projects?
- When an unanticipated obstacle happens, what’s their reaction?
- When you speak with them, do they offer advice & add value to your work and decision-making?
- If you can handle the complexity of your role (which may be the problem), are they comfortable with leaving you alone & encouraging you to do your work?
- How often do you have to check in with your manager?
I’ve developed organizational practices and methods for making sense of work complexity and changing leadership + teamwork to understand and best respond to the complexity of your work.
Here is an example
Working with a manufacturing company looking to promote an internal front-line employee to be a Lead employee, a lead employee serves as a staff supervisor on that shift in a particular location. They operate between the First-Line Manager and the Front-Line Staff.
From observing the work and interview of successful Lead Staff, we identified that the Role Complexity required was three months; the longest Goal assigned to this level is three months.
We identified that a successful candidate must handle the Complexity of a 3 Month Goal. This meant that they would have to understand the current condition, the staff, management, resources, vendors, and possible changing conditions & be able to delegate, work, + adjust work early enough to complete a project that would last 3 months.
From the internal staff, we interviewed all those who applied & some that did not.
In the interview process, the following questions were asked. Each interviewer kept independent scores that were reviewed later.
- Describe a project you are working on or have worked on that lasted longer than 2 months.
- Who led the project?
- How was the project delegated to you?
- What pieces of the project were you accountable for completing?
- Please walk us through how you completed the project.
- Please walk us through how you worked with others to complete the project.
- Describe how you worked with someone else who was needed to help you complete the project.
- How were challenges dealt with?
- Who created the timeline & check-ins?
- How often did you meet with the project team?
- What was discussed during the team meetings?
- How often did you meet with your manager?
- What was discussed during the manager meetings?
With the responses, we looked for examples of experience and their thinking + planning on the complexity needed to succeed in that role. Having the Front-Line Manager & Production Manager present, both knew the work and knew the interviewees added input to who had the complexity right now to succeed at the job.
This is not foolproof. What you are looking for is a person’s ability to handle ambiguity. Taking what they know & understand to synthesize a plan.
Work Complexity itself cannot be modeled or simplified – then it would not be complexity.
Figure out what is needed & what success looks like in the role; only then can you ask the proper questions to find the person to fill that role.
Too many organizations & managers get it wrong. They look for the person, assuming they will “fit into” the role or, even worse, have the “potential to grow into the role.”