Patterns and Back to Work

As your work changes and how you do your work moves into complexity patterns, how your team and you make sense of the challenges is essential. 

In a recent talk at the University at Buffalo School of Entrepreneurial Leadership, I shared how several executive teams and companies have been looking for patterns, identifying trends from those patterns, and changing how they get their work done. 

All of this is an effort to shift the odds in your favor so that when obstacles arise, you can work through them and succeed. 

Complexity Patterns Recognition

Complexity is the number of variables to be dealt with at a given time, the clarity and precision with which they can be identified, and their rate of change. (Jaques 1998)

One of the best ways to work with complexity patterns is to create a cadence of habit with your team and self to gather information in the present and review that information regularly. 

We see this in the US military and other teams that deal with highly complex, changing, interdependent forces.

Debriefs or after-action reviews develop this cadence or habit. 

Distinctive Working Well Small Improvements 
complexity patterns recognition - distinctive working well small improvements
Distinctive Working Well Small Improvements – Mike Cardus

Here is an example of how one team gathered complexity patterns. 

  1. Each department director was asked for a week to write down (daily) what was distinctive, working well, and small improvements they noticed. 
  2. We compiled the directors’ responses. 
  3. We clustered the distinctive, working well, small improvements into areas of capacity and need for the company. 
  4. We mapped the clusters and small improvements to the Cyenfin framework to best-match the approach for development. 
  5. Each director chose 1 small improvement they can commit to working on, and they completed a ‘Short Term Plan for Visible Goals‘ 
  6. Each director continues the process every two weeks, 
  7. We look at the Distinctive, Working Well, Small Improvements changes and develop themes or clusters. 
complexity patterns cluster on Cynefin framework - Mike Cardus
How does this create change and complexity patterns? 

Within your work, there are things you: 

  • Manage – you can have some control and authority to change or adjust. 
  • Monitor – you cannot directly control, you watch, and from what you manage, you gather feedback or observe to see what happens. 

When it comes to change within your work, developing the process of complexity patterns recognition is how you keep responsive and avoid becoming too mechanical. When you grow to mechanical, you are caught by surprise and fall into the “OH SHIT” moment that breaks things so bad that they cannot be repaired or strengthened. 

Organizational change happens when you: 
  1. Identify what you can change. 
  2. From what you can change, make a process for how. Look at and determine how much change is happening and its effects. 
  3. From the effects, continue seeking complexity patterns to see what is working well to increase and what is not working well to decrease. 
  4. Continue developing the habit (with your team or self) of listening and pattern recognition. 

When you wait until things calm down, or you have time, or you think you understand what has to happen, you are likely too late and missed useful complexity patterns that could have created better or more resilient outcomes.