When change is difficult, movement is needed

 

Change or movement?

Everyone experiences it at some point: you want to change something, you make a plan and execute it. You do exactly what you need to do. But at a certain level, the new situation is similar to the old one, nothing significant has changed. Or the new situation automatically bounces back to where you started the moment you stop giving it your time and energy. These are symptoms that something, somewhere is blocked. An opinion, a process, an approach. Making patterns stubborn and change slow to happen. In such cases, a change is the wrong solution: movement is needed.

The project team got off to a great start. Everyone was committed to the task, the team had been carefully put together to include the right professionals. Everything was present to make the project a success. Unfortunately though, things quickly started to go downhill. The fortnightly meetings didn’t go well. People arrived too late, were not fully prepared or failed to fully keep to the agreements.    

If you want to change something, then you make a plan. You go from A to B and overcome any obstacles you encounter on the way.

During a team day, concrete agreements were made that should have helped make the meetings more effective. The frequency of meetings was increased, and a project assistant was appointed to manage the agenda, documents and agreements. Which for two weeks went well. Until the meetings became a shambles. “It’s too much of a commitment,” was the most commonly heard excuse.  

The project team decided to start working using the Scum methodology. Its tight structure would help maintain discipline. The first sprint went well, the second reasonably, but from the third sprint it all went wrong again. The project threatened to fail.  

Sometimes, movement is needed. So, you start to explore. You look for what is stuck and unjam it during the search process.

When the team evaluated the progress after the third sprint, a few team members indicated they wanted to withdraw from the project. “We’re walking around in circles, I don’t want to do this anymore, nothing is going to change anyway”, said the most experienced team member. 

If things seem to repeat themselves, you have a particular gut feeling or you simply have no idea how things should be different, then it’s useful to look at whether creating movement is a better option than once again trying to make a change.

 

The difference between change and movement

Change

How things are now, need to be different
  • The outcome is the objective
  • The outcome is at best what you wanted
  • Initiated and led by the management
  • System easily reverts back to (approximately) the old situation
  • Requires focus and perseverance

Movement

Unblocking what is stuck
  • The outcome is the consequence
  • The outcome is better/more valuable than you could have expected
  • No fixed place from where the movement originates
  • System is transformed into something new
  • Happens quickly and effortlessly, provided the appropriate intervention takes place

If what needs to change is actually a symptom of something else (which is nearly always the case), then everything will revert back to the old situation once the pressure has eased off. Once the novelty of the sprints has worn off, for example. Or when management’s focus changes, a team, process or product will then revert back to the old situation. Although things usually look as though they’ve changed, and reports of success magnify the difference, in reality things have gone back to how they were before.

The position of finance manager was once again vacant. For the sixth time in five years. Even the interim managers didn’t stay for the entire length of the assignment. It couldn’t be down to the position itself and the procedure, as that had been considered meticulously. The town clerk was hesitant to start up a new procedure once again: he wanted to be certain that the right person would be selected this time.

The question “does this role actually exist?” brought immediate movement. It turned out that after the reorganisation of this city council, the position had been created by one of the reorganisation managers. A result of negotiation that at the time helped the reorganisation run more smoothly. The conclusion was clear: the role didn’t really exist. This conclusion immediately brought with it new space for resolution. The work was set up differently, the position of control was strengthened, and some of the tasks were sourced-in from a neighbouring council. 

The systemic conceptual framework and ideas provide a basis for creating and guiding a movement. Through constellations, it often becomes very clear where things are blocked. A good constellation facilitator will guide the unblocking.  But a more practical, usable form for everyone, is to ask questions. This form of asking questions is called Moving Questions.

For months I had been doing my best to attract clients for the course I had developed. Despite all of my efforts, nobody had registered. I changed the process, adjusted the programme, updated the website. But whatever I did: not a single change made a difference. 

During a workshop I was giving to a group of colleagues, I spoke about how this course I’d developed was exhausting me. One of my colleagues looked at me. The question that followed changed everything: “Why offer a course when this workshop is already so good?” Movement! The question unblocked my idea of having to offer a training course. I was stuck in the thought that I had to offer a course. Following the question, space was immediately created for other ideas. Naturally. The training course changed into a series of workshops. And from that flow, the registrations started to come too.

According to research by TNO and the CBS, annually 14% of employees report sick due to complaints of burn-out. Which are only the complaints that are registered. Burn-out means that you’re running on empty. You can’t carry on. You can no longer continue to work hard. The signs that things are stuck have already reared their head a long time ago. You must change. Somewhere, something that is stuck needs to be unblocked. Only then is the recovery sustainable.

Sometimes a change is needed, sometimes a movement.

How questions bring movement

Many questioning techniques look for circumstances, facts and examples. But this doesn’t help if you are jammed. Because you don’t actually need proof or more information. It’s this information that’s already making you work so hard. Extra information, facts and evidence are just more of the same. And so don’t contribute to the unblocking. Or as Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. As in the example of the finance manager, the solution was not in an even better procedure, but in a different approach to the problem.

And so: ask questions that go beyond circumstances, facts and examples. Question that invite you to go beyond everything you already know and can. In order to ask yourself or others these kinds of questions, you need to be brave. You must be prepared to face all possible answers. I needed four days to acknowledge that a training course was actually a really bad idea – it took so long because I was scared that everything would disappear if I let go, after all the effort I had put into it.

3 examples of Moving Questions

  1. What is being stuck the best possible solution for?
  2. What is not being seen?
  3. Where does the permission for the new need to come from?

Which of these questions would you ask in the example of the project team? With these kinds of questions, it not about the answer at all. The process to find the answer is much more important. Or even: the process to choose what question needs to be asked. They all fit, each question has the potential to make the difference. This is because the questions themselves are what you would call ‘empty’; they don’t give direction, they don’t advise and they don’t suggest anything. They are without judgement. This ensures that the person you ask the question is invited to explore what is really going on.

You can always ask a question.

Conclusion

As organisation consultant, many assignments I take start with a realisation of change. The direction has to be different, the behaviour or skills of employees are not sufficient, the list goes on. How it is now, needs to be different. The management is then responsible for achieving these objectives, and consultants such as myself help the management in their task.

When working on change, I maintain some of what currently exists. This can sometimes be desirable. But more often than not, clients are pleased with the movement that’s been brought about. The flow in the organisation immediately returns.

This blog is an invitation to clients and colleagues to explore what is needed: a change or a movement.

Siets Bakker