The Messiness of Change in Organizations

Tom GibbonsChangeLeave a Comment

The pictures below are two of eight pictures hanging in the hallway of the TMS office in Australia.  Drawn by a TMS Network Member the eight pictures are representations of the eight role preferences found in the Team Management Wheel.  Australia 2006 191When you stand back and observe the pictures you can make your own connections regarding how each one might be seen to represent the role preference it depicts.  If you are with someone else and ask them what connections they have made they are always different, perhaps interesting, or maybe even just plain weird.  But those connections make sense of the drawings for that person.

It seems to us that this is analogous to change in organizations.  When we find ourselves immersed in change we all have our ways of making our own connections to what is happening to us, our own ways of making sense of the situation.  Just like the connections we might make to the pictures above these may seem interesting or weird to others but you can be certain these connections will be different than others’.  We make connections, make sense of change at this individual level and then respond based on this.

Interestingly, most change efforts and change management models in organizations are based on the assumption that you should be able to ‘manage’ everyone to the same connections, make sense of the change in the same way and then respond collectively in the same manner.  This assumption denies the reality of the messiness of change that needs to be engaged to have any hope of moving change forward effectively.

Imagine 1000 people looking at the pictures above and then each one putting their ideas and thoughts forward.  It might be very cool but it is also very messy.  What do you do with it all?  Multi vote, prioritize, categorize, analyze, action plan… run screaming from the room?  Yet this is the reality of change, any change in organizations.

The one thing you can truly do that has value is interact with each other about ‘it all’.  No matter what tool, technique or process you decide on you will be interacting with each other.  The fact of interacting is often rationally invisible to us, made so by our fanatical preoccupation with management technique.  If we take our experience of interacting with others seriously we can then discuss the messiness of change and the myriad of perspectives, many emotional, that this messiness produces and move forward, not necessarily in tandem, but forward nevertheless.

The TMS products assist us in taking our experience of interacting seriously.

As individuals we make sense of the change we experience.  As groups we need to engage in sense-making.  This requires us to be present to the perceptions of all involved, in all its complex messiness.  It doesn’t mean we resolve all the differences but together, engaged in sense-making we move along, perhaps even get along to the next wonderful mess in our organizations.

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