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Chaos? Crisis? How to determine the course of your organisation

Open any newspaper or website these days and you will read about the ‘uncertain times’ we’re experiencing. And all the things we must do right now to secure business.

It’s not my intention to downplay the situation. However, I can’t help but wonder; are the current challenges faced by entrepreneurs and managers really that uncertain?

It goes without saying; entrepreneurship is inextricably linked to uncertainty and the anticipation thereof. It’s also something we’ve learned through history: We expected the financial crisis to change everything, yet over 10 years later, our economic system generally remains the same.

Handling a crisis is not that different from handling insecurity, and as a leader, you must be able to respond to it. You are obligated to take the reigns and carve out a path for the people (and projects) for whom you are responsible.

Complexity and the availability of information

According to leadership coach Twan Biemans, complexity has everything to do with the availability of information: The relationship between what we know and what we don’t. A good way to visualise this is by using Ralph Staceys’ Complexity Model.

The Stacey Complexity Model has two axes:

  • The vertical axis represents Requirements. It measures the level of unity within a team or organisation, how certain we are about what we want to achieve. If we are in agreement, the value is low, if not, then the value is high.
  • The horizontal axis represents Technology: this indicates how much confidence there is in our ability, and how we should approach it. The more certain you are that a target can be achieved, the further left you are in the model. If you have no idea how or if you can do it, then you fall to the right.

The four categories of the Stacey complexity model:

Stacey Matrix [Stacey 1996] adapted to software development by Ömer Uludag

An ideal situation where everything is certain. You know exactly what you need to do to reach your goal, you’re sure that it is possible and you also know how to do it.

This is relatively common. You’re not entirely certain of what it is you want to achieve, but you do know that it’s possible. You make a plan, and when it’s ready you start to execute it. There is more known information than unknown. A suitable method, in this case, is the traditional Waterfall Method: Only moving on to the next phase once the initial phase is complete. There is also a second complicated area: You know what you want to achieve, but you’re not certain that it is possible. In this case, it’s best to ask a specialist for help.

In this chaotic situation, nothing can be predicted. There is no certainty of what you want to achieve and also no idea of how to tackle it. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for tasks that fall into this category. Above all, you must find a way back to certainty and correct information as quickly as possible. The famous Agile Post-it Method by Kanban could initiate this: In which you make the invisible visible, and don’t try to tackle everything at once.

There’s a lot of uncertainty around what to do and how to do it. However, there’s, more often than not, a point on the horizon that you will eventually work towards. Stacey argues that if you’re willing to listen to different people (and their opinions), you’ll find that in reality, situations are more complex than you thought.

Using the Stacey model during a crisis

In the professional field, you often have to deal with complex tasks: It’s common that you don’t know, initially, how you are going to tackle a certain project. In fact a lot of the time, in the beginning, you don’t even know which problems you’ll encounter. A crisis is synonymous with uncertainty; you automatically fall on the side where more is unknown than known. So how do you tackle complex tasks?

Choose an agile approach. Make short-term decisions. There is a lot of uncertainty, so it’s wise not to look too far ahead. The decisions you make in the short term will help with those you must make later, based on the knowledge gained during that first, uncertain period.

Involve as many people as possible in this. Many hands make light work, and more people mean more thinking. You can do so much more, leading to a broader range of insight and better decision-making in the long run.

Give the people with the information the power to make the decisions. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to have confidence in your team and to instil a feeling within your employees that you trust them to make the right decisions. They have the information to make the best decision, even if it’s a different decision than you might have made yourself.

Written by:

Founder & CEO

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