Business Case Studies, Executive Interviews, Michael Brimm on Managing Complexity

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Executive Interviews: Interview with Michael Brimm on Managing Complexity
August 2008 - By Dr. Nagendra V Chowdary


Prof. Michael Brimm
Prof. Michael Brimm is Emeritus Professor of Organization and Management at INSEAD.


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  • What is the importance of networks and hierarchies in managing complexities in global corporations? You have made a distinction between fishing nets and safety nets as far as networks are concerned. What are they and what is their significance for managing complexities in global organizations?
    Much of the activities which I have described in project teams and training is designed to develop effective networks that work alongside the formal structures. These networks increase effectiveness greatly; but alas, they are also some of the sources of complexity.

    Unless they are accepted and understood, these informal channels of help, advice and support will be perceived as threats, overlays and redundant forms of interaction. The challenge for leaders is to develop the understanding and awareness of networks so that these can be effectively managed and designed to the purposes of the unit or organization. Thus, the choice of members of a project team should be guided not only by the competencies that individuals bring to the task, but also their access to implement work and the desirability of using this team to build a new functioning network that will provide future benefit. This, then justifies the investment of time and resources to launch and build the network as part of the project.

  • What is the role of business schools in preparing better managers for managing complexities?
    As noted above, business schools need to continue to provoke thought and provide frameworks that help people learn rather than forcing formulas which will be obsolete, in some cases well before the student graduates. More experience-based work that immerses individuals into the organizational complexity with real work activity is the only prescription I can see. This is less innovation than looking to past practices and renewing them into the current context. For example, traditionally French schools have required a "stage" where students worked in organizations. University of Michigan uses "consulting teams" to address real business issues around the world. Conventional classroom will allow some level of reflection, but like in the development of a good tennis player, getting out on the court with a good coach is essential.

  • What do you think are going to be the characteristics of a global corporation in the next 10-15 years? Would they be drastically different from the current global corporations? What definite changes do you foresee?
    I will sidestep this one. If I had been asked this question 15 years ago, I would not have been able to imagine the impact of change and technology on today's organizations. As I have argued that the change rate is accelerating, I would be foolish to even hazard a guess.

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The Interview was conducted by Dr. Nagendra V Chowdary, Consulting Editor, Effective Executive and Dean, IBSCDC, Hyderabad.

This Interview was originally published in Effective Executive, IUP, August 2008.

Copyright © August 2008, IBSCDC No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced or distributed, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or medium electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the permission of IBSCDC.

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