7 challenges of uncertainty and complexity & why collaboration is key

Looking at 7 challenges people face when working with complexity and uncertainty and how we can be better with more effective collaboration.

In a world of uncertainty and complexity, collaboration is key. How we work together offers us hope and possibilities in a world which isn’t getting any more simple or certain. This blog post discusses 7 challenges that we all face and suggestions for how we can notice and work with these challenges differently. Some problems can be solved with experience or expertise, but many more complex ones need collaboration with different people and diverse perspectives.

  1. We seek certainty and simplicity. We are often too quick to make decisions based on our own opinion and tend to avoid sitting in the uncomfortableness of uncertainty where we can remain curious about our own understanding and the understanding of others. In an uncertain world where anything can happen, it's important that we don't rush to any one conclusion and seek the perspective of others in order to better understand what might really be going on.
  2. There's no ‘right’ way forward. So much of the way we live is based on the assumption of right and wrong, and we can put ourselves under a lot of pressure to make the ‘right’ decision. These judgments are often unhelpful as in a complex and uncertain world, there is no one way forward, so the way we collaborate, gather ideas, and challenge each other's assumptions will make for greater possibilities. Working with an experimental approach to test ideas without getting too attached will allow for agility and adaptability as we go.
  3. There's no guarantee any one solution will work and yet because we're conditioned to see failure as a negative, it's easy for us to push through in order to make something work and stick with a plan which is no longer suitable for the situation. Instead, we suggest reassessing the situation, getting more diverse opinions, and making regular adjustments.
  4. We can't predict what will happen and so we often rely on our past experiences to best prepare us for the future. However, in a world that is uncertain and complex, even the most experienced struggle to know what might come next. Collaboration in this context is about sensing together, listening to each other, and being open to what we don't know, in order to get a better understanding of what is going on and what we could do.
  5. People are easily overwhelmed and burnt out. Working in uncertainty and complexity takes a lot of energy, meaning that the need for prioritising all aspects of our health becomes even greater. The pandemic is an obvious example where the conversation around anxiety, depression and burnout has become much more prevalent. Supporting each other is important; remaining compassionate to what everyone is going through.
  6. People don’t know how to contribute. Uncertainty and complexity can often make us feel disoriented and unable to know how best to support in any given situation. Working together with a 'best next step' approach can empower people to support smaller, tangible tasks which can aid confidence and team spirit. This can also help responsiveness to the situation rather than being fixated on a long-term strategy that may not meet future needs.
  7. People look to leaders to ease their anxiety and it can be tempting to satisfy these needs by providing a plan or solution, but where there isn't an answer, this can cause distrust and greater anxiety as time goes on. In a complex and uncertain environment, it can be better to lead with humility, create spaces for people to share with one another, and create a feeling of being ‘in it together’’.

How we collaborate is a core part of any group working together, and the more challenging and complex a problem, the more important it is to think about how it is that we are working together, even when it can feel countercultural to slow down and take the time to do so.

If you have found this blog helpful, then perhaps our short guide to working with complex and complicated problems will help too. Our consultants are also available to explore any of your challenges and questions. Have you got stories about leading in times of uncertainty? We'd love to hear from you.