Last week I wrote about how we can approach individuals when we want to see change in their behavior. I ended with an exploration of relating to children, which can serve as a possible entryway into exploring change within organizations, the original context that started me thinking about this rich and difficult topic. The similarity between the context of organizations and the context of parenting has been striking to me. In particular, in both settings the power difference is vivid and clear, as is the expectation, common to both relationships, that the one with power is the one who knows what’s best.
Supporting Culture Change within Organizations
My recent work with organizations has been the direct catalyst of this entire line of inquiry. My intense inner engagement with the general question of how change comes about was precipitated by some challenging experiences I’ve had with one client recently. Specifically, I noticed that within one organization, where my charge is quite limited, the work I am doing is making more ripples, whereas in another organization, where I have been doing a much larger project, there have been significant obstacles.
In both cases I am engaged with the CEO, the leadership team, and some other teams within the organization. In one case, the smaller project, I came in knowing that I was going to work within the existing paradigm of power. This is a service organization that has a fair amount of bureaucracy and established procedures for everything they do. When I meet with the leadership team, I am following their lead in terms of what they want, my only limit being my personal integrity, which has on occasion led me to express what I see and want to see happen in ways that have earned me a reputation within that organization of someone who is willing to speak truth. Within these constraints, I have managed to shift the internal dynamics within the teams I work with such that the administrative staff now participates in meetings rather than just observing and recording meeting notes. I have supported the creation of conditions that now allow for more conversation and trust within the leadership team, and I hear from the team that they are able to apply in other circumstances what they learn in the meetings I facilitate. There is more trust, and more collaboration is beginning, laterally and vertically. It’s a slow process, and yet I often leave my meetings almost elated, whether with one of the teams I support or with the CEO. I see change happening.