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Managing complexity in the workplace


The organisational world is more complex today than it ever has been. And there’s every reason to believe that this complexity will continue to increase – year on year. Systems are interconnected as never before and the information that comes along with that proliferates. In complex systems unforeseen factors continually give rise to situations where traditional decision-making and leadership are difficult to apply. With technology and communication creating so much information, it is increasingly difficult to manage time effectively. Mindfulness can help leaders find creative solutions to problems by enabling them to focus more easily on the information that matters.


Complexity in the workplace

The landscape of complexity

In ‘Mindfulness in the Age of Complexity’, Ellen Langer discusses her research on mindfulness in business over the last four decades. “You can’t solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions”, she says.


But in a complex system there are so many different solutions to the problems faced by managers that it can be difficult to know where to start. Not only that, but management styles vary so much these days and not all solutions suit everyone. With so many choices, it’s hard to be clear about the right course of action.

Mindfulness as a tool to handle complexity

When we’re mindful, we pay more attention to what’s happening right now. This allows us to deal more effectively with problems as they arise. Mindfulness increases creativity, so it’s easier to think outside of the box to find a solution when known ones don’t work. We also prioritise better when we’re mindful and tasks can be completed in order of importance. Our memory improves with mindfulness so the next time we encounter a similar problem, we already know how to deal with it appropriately.


Leading in an age of complexity is challenging but mindfulness allows leaders to access hidden depths to find the solutions. As Sudhanshu Palsule suggests, “Making decisions then becomes not so much about ‘deciding’, but more about letting an inner wisdom emerge.” Human beings have a great ability to adapt in complex situation, it’s just a case of realising the best course of action to take.

Dealing with stress through mindfulness

When dealing with complexity, the brain is likely to become reactive as we prepare for danger. This is part of the human fight or flight mechanism. When in physical danger, this system works very well but in the workplace, we’re unlikely to get physically harmed. This stress response is natural and automatic though can cause harmful effects to the body if persistent and regularly triggered. Mindfulness helps put thoughts into perspective so the perceived danger of a complex work environment is lessened, allowing rational strategies to be formed so problems can be dealt with.


Complexity in the workplace no doubt contributes to stress though this does not need to be the case. As Langer suggests:

“Stress is not a function of events; it’s a function of the view you take on events. Mindfulness helps the framing of events and allows people to put problems into perspective. Outcomes are usually not nearly as bad as we think when something goes wrong or a situation is too difficult to deal with.”

To find out more about complexity in the workplace and how mindfulness can help, contact rachel@mindfulnessworks.com, or call (+44) 01223 750660.