There was a long silence, as everyone considered what Dave had just said. Matt spoke first. "Dave, that has to be wrong. If you're right," he said, "we've just wasted three months. And I wouldn't want to be in the room when you tell Tolman."
Carl was probably the most upset of all of them. "Actually, I'd like to see that myself. You're nothing but negative, Dave, and personally I'm sick of it." Then he stood up and left the conference room.
Matt and Carl are demonstrating two different responses to the bad news they've just received. Acknowledging difficulty can be so uncomfortable or frightening that we sometimes prefer the comfort of ignorance. Our discomfort can be so compelling that, like Matt or Carl, we become willing to adopt or cling to false beliefs that conform better to our wishes than does reality. And we'll stick with those illusions until we're forced to recognize our folly.
Teams and organizations have real advantages if they excel at detecting and eliminating myths and confusion. Here are some of the milestones on the path to Clarity.
- Whether we're clinging to myth or just confused, all progress depends on recognizing that there's something wrong with what we believe. Usually recognition comes to us through Messengers — a few courageous souls who are willing to withstand our objections and our sometimes-personal attacks.
- Sometimes Fear and discomfort
can be so compelling
that we cling to illusionsacknowledging our error can take the form of accepting the word of the Messengers. More often, we acknowledge our error while finding some minor flaw in the assertions of the Messengers. That way we can change our views without ceding status to the Messengers.
- To make further progress, we have to realize that we ourselves will have to create the change we need. This step can sometimes be the scariest, because we have to accept that no mysterious force will do our work for us.
- By telling others that we understand that things must change and that we'll be changing them, we express commitment to finding a new path forward that departs from the one we traveled to get here.
- Finally, we take some concrete action that we hope will move us toward a resolution. It might not actually work at first, but as long as we keep at it, each attempt gives us new insights about the reality of the problem.
The members of groups move along this path at different paces, sometimes backtracking, and that can lead to frustration within the group. But we can manage that frustration if everyone knows about this path, and how natural it is. Then, giving each other time gets easier, and maybe fewer of us will have to get up and leave the room. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Organizational Change:
- Letting Go of the Status Quo: the Debate
- Before we can change, we must want to change, or at least accept that we must change. And somewhere
in there, we must let go of some part of what is now in place — the status quo. In organizations,
the decision to let go involves debate.
- When Change Is Hard: II
- When organizational change is difficult, we sometimes blame poor leadership or "resistance."
But even when we believe we have good leadership and the most cooperative populations, we can still
encounter trouble. Why is change so hard so often?
- Deciding to Change: Trusting
- When organizations change by choice, people who are included in the decision process understand the
issues. Whether they agree with the decision or not, they participate in the decision in some way. But
not everyone is included in the process. What about those who are excluded?
- Deciding to Change: Choosing
- When organizations decide to change what they do, the change sometimes requires that they change how
they make decisions, too. That part of the change is sometimes overlooked, in part, because it affects
most the people who make decisions. What can we do about this?
- The Expectation-Disruption Connection
- In technology-dependent organizations, we usually invest in infrastructure as a means of providing new
capability. But mitigating the risk of disruption is a more powerful justification for infrastructure
investment, if we understand the Expectation-Disruption Connection.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
- Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.
- And on February 15: Four Razors for Organizational Behavior
- Deviant organizational behavior can harm the people and the organization. In choosing responses, we consider what drives the perpetrators. Considering Malice, Incompetence, Ignorance, and Greed, we can devise four guidelines for making these choices. Available here and by RSS on February 15.
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