Introducing Change in Stable Environments

August 31, 2010

Introducing change to an organization can be very challenging. This is especially true when the organization is quite stable to begin with. For example, if the teams have been working together, on the same product, in the same roles, for years at a stretch, then you are very likely going to find that change may not be received well at all. It’s pretty obvious really. We all get into our comfort zones, learning to do the things we all do best, and we dismiss change with a, “No thanks, I’m just fine. I like it this way. This way works.”

Frankly, from a certain perspective, change can just look like a whole lot of risk, with only marginal reward – if even that. So what do you do if you are someone who is trying to get some change out of a very stable, well established group with no obvious inclination to change? Well, I’m glad you asked:

First, create some instability in the environment. Oh boy, that ought to make you popular! The fact is, that without some sort of instability in the environment, it’s very hard to effect change. Without the instability, there is no perceived need to alter our habits. We need to create a situation where we leave our comfort zones. The best way to do this? Mix things up. Move people between teams. Put them into domains they haven’t worked in before, working with people they haven’t worked with before.

Nobody in a stable organization is going to like this, but it may be just what it takes to get people learning again. If we can get them into learning mode, then we can start to experiment with different ways of solving problems, and that’s when new practices look a whole lot more interesting.

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Like Riding a Bike

August 29, 2010

I’ve been teaching my daughter to ride a bike (or she has been teaching me the need for physical fitness). Getting started is really hard. That first kick off and push, the flailing for the pedal, the herky jerky motion all conspire to make just getting started moving a challenge. Once she’s got some momentum, things are much easier. She cruises right along and gives a running narration along the way. Then there is the stopping. Stopping is always a mystery: will she slam on the brakes, roll to a gentle halt, or do something much more dramatic? I never know, and speaking as a parent, I’m completely terrified about this part.

Of course I’ve seen this before. Starting a project is often an awkward time. Getting commitment from key stakeholders, planning, envisioning – there is a lot of uncertainty. But once a project gets going, on average they have a momentum of their own. There is that first euphoric thrill of “we’re working!” and things feel great. Finally, there is stopping the project. Sometimes gracefully, and sometimes a complete wipe-out!