Chapter 4 Second Phase: A Lame Response and Making the Second Call – Creating Leadership


Second Phase: A Lame Response and Making the Second Call

The Fable (continued)

The chiefs returned to their villages, but instead of doing what they had agreed, they said to their people, “Do not worry. Nothing has changed.” Soon their people began to suffer: The rains were light again, food stocks were running out, and doubts grew within them.

When the young lion realized that the chiefs had failed to act, he became really angry. Waving his stick once more, he called on the chiefs a second time: “You have to accept that things have changed. We need to build a new future together and fast.” He boldly took charge of the seed supply, sending more to the few chiefs who were adapting to suit the reduced pattern of rain.

At this, the simmering resentment of the hippos erupted. Some wanted to fight him for his high-handedness; others were afraid because he had shown his power, and one or two fell asleep because it was just too frightening.

The Challenge

It’s as if you are in a dream with a crowd of starving people and there is a door with a big sign on it saying Food. You point to it but you’re invisible. No one goes there. It’s as if they want to continue suffering. You’re desperate for a response. Do you shout louder, throw buckets of cold water over people, or shine bright lights in their eyes? What will make a difference?

Tony: Our Story

Arriving in an utterly unfamiliar and unpredictable place is how I experienced the second phase. Cameroon is one of the poorest countries on earth and puzzles economists because unlike Botswana, Chile, India, and countless other poor countries, it continues to get poorer. It is a nasty shock after the relative comfort and sophistication of Kenya, and on top of this, it is one of the rainiest places on earth. Through my taxi window I watched the baffling array of people on the muddy roadside: a skinny woman carefully roasting one tiny piece of sweet corn for sale, a couple of beaming lads balancing shoes on their heads as an eye-catching advertisement for the trainers in a big bag they dragged behind them, and a woman in a stunning bright purple and white printed wraparound dress, head erect and wrapped proudly in a matching fabric, tiptoeing between puddles.

Godlove, our taxi driver, demands an extra 12,000 francs “for gas” on top of our fare. We reluctantly agree. A few hundred meters later police stop the taxi to “fine” him for wrong registration plates, but Godlove expertly escapes their clutches. Repeatedly, the cab lurches alarmingly into fast oncoming traffic to avoid deep puddles, and then pulls up by a stall where Godlove butters up a plump, old machete-wielding woman. He moves two big bunches of bananas toward his car; then the woman objecting to the price Godlove offers waves her arms screaming, “Why you want to hurt me?” at which Godlove, feigning indifference, starts the engine as if to leave. This draws a weary nod of assent from the lady. Godlove pays, loads his bananas, and drives off laughing.

Drawing up to our hotel in Douala, Cameroon’s second city, it is dark and we see scantily clad girls draped over the bonnets of bright yellow taxis parked on the hotel forecourt. The following morning drawn to my window by voices, I see a gang of men in matching yellow polo shirts and brown shorts jogging and chanting at the same time. I don’t know what to make of it. It doesn’t look like a sports team training. Could they be prisoners? A work gang off to a shift at the nearby docks? An army unit? I honestly had no idea. Perhaps I was in culture shock.

Those glimpses told me survival isn’t easy here, and as I try to turn to the work in hand, I’m wondering: how would you really help someone in such circumstances? Is facilitation even useful or do people just need money? If the taxi driver had paid more for the bananas, or if we had bribed the police, what difference would this have made by tomorrow? Wouldn’t the police just want more handouts? Something more is needed to change their fortunes—a different way of operating, a new mind-set.

Ben and I arrive to find Philip in full action mode: busy, impatient, and deeply frustrated. In spite of creating their vision and transition plan for the merger in Nairobi, in the ensuing months, his 30 leaders had done little. Their behavior seemed irrational because they were in real danger of losing income and having to close, not just a few product lines but whole offices, of having new systems and strategies imposed, of turning away loyal customers and losing capable staff. Why didn’t they act to save themselves?

With a few close colleagues, Philip had taken charge of the sensitive question of which core products to continue and which peripheral products to kill, but he was caught now because he realized that he could not force product changes on the countries without turning his 500 staff into victims. Ian was one of this small brave group pushing the change forward:

There were a number of influencers, Philip would have been one. And I was one of a group of people who were pushing the process forward. Putting it simply, with better projects operating in the country, better designed and reaching more people, our impact could be strengthened and our profile raised.

The reticence of the wider leadership team seemed to invite Philip to impose decisions but he knew this would be self-defeating both for them and ultimately for him. He must wake them up to the new realities if he was to harness their energy, knowledge, and experience to deliver effective and sustainable change. He wanted his staff to be leaders working together to transform their situation, but how were we to do this? This was the immediate question before us: How do we get the penny to drop so that 30 people in the leadership community really step up and take on a leadership role for the whole team of 500?

The meeting rooms of the hotel in Douala looked like sheds. There was wildlife from the pool area running through gaps under the doors. I saw a fat bright green lizard and Ben saw a rat. As the meeting assembled, I looked into the faces of 30 leaders and saw with horror how many had changed since Nairobi. I turned to Philip, who shrugged and said, “That’s what we have to deal with.” Country directors tend to take 3- to 4-year postings so he had lost a few and would continue to do so throughout this process. On top of this, he had sacked one country director for good reasons that he was not free to divulge to the rest of the group. Finally, many of the country directors had decided to bring different African senior managers from the last meeting so as to share the privilege of travel and expose more people to the leadership decisions.

Philip, Ben, and I had agreed on a shared approach to change based on engagement, which says that if you involve people in creating a collective goal, defining their roles, plans, and success measures, then they are more likely to perform because their work is meaningful and fulfilling rather than imposed drudgery. This was at the other end of the spectrum from a bureaucratic approach, which says that if a plan has been written up and made official then magically everyone will know it and work by it! But we needed the core leadership group to understand engagement if we were to make it work. Our advice to Philip was, in future, to ask country directors to bring the same African senior manager each time so as to stabilize this group.

Philip opened the meeting on an upbeat note, once again framing the challenges facing the region and the need to unlock the power of this group. After Nairobi, we agreed with Philip to work on inculcating the habits of high-performance teams and began a teamwork simulation to get people connecting and reflecting on their team behaviors. This addressed Philip’s stated aim of using these meetings to build the capacity of the team to collectively respond to the challenges they faced not just in these meetings but in the months between. We described eight behaviors that help top teams perform (see tools, holding up the mirror) and gave out laminated cards for easy reference.

The team enjoyed the simulation, but only as an icebreaker, and overall they performed it badly. It was a struggle to get them to focus on how their behavior had contributed to their poor performance. They seemed happily distracted from the serious issues they were expected to be tackling. Nonetheless, table facilitators appointed from within the leadership team persisted and succeeded in getting the groups to make a contract to use the behaviors (active listening, questioning, summarizing, challenging, supporting, etc.) that would most quickly bring the real issues into the room.

The mood continued upbeat and in an aside, Ben whispered to me, “They’re in denial.” Yes, the jollity and false confidence exhibited by the team were clear signs that they were avoiding the threat they faced, but a review of progress on the merger brought a less frivolous tone. Although things were said to be moving fast, the individual country businesses were still not aligned to the regional and corporate priorities. The region was more a concept than a reality. Someone said that the merger was taking away their freedom, another that unless we can demonstrate relevance, we will lose key sources of income, and yet another, that trust is an issue across this team.

Then a great wave of excitement rippled round the room when we heard that London had won the 2012 Olympic bid. We continued the work and by the time we closed the first day the overall impression was of people starting to get past being polite and beginning to raise issues. That evening Philip reflected that the day’s discussions had been “difficult”. He referred to “unpleasantness” from one or two people. Ben added that one table had low energy. I remarked that some people were taking turns but holding back, while other noisy ones were dominating.

The second day started with the shocking news of bombs in London. Immediately this became a focus. We had to break for people to check on London-based friends and relatives, but on finding most of the phone lines jammed, we resumed in some uncertainty. As previously in Nairobi, we would find that the mood could turn suddenly and unpredictably nasty.

We brought in a group of external customers: young business people from the outside world who we thought could have a waking-up effect on the group, but there was little obvious impact. Then a headquarters visitor, struggling with our ground rule of “no PowerPoint,” delivered the news that there was a massive restructuring under way in the United Kingdom and that HQ would begin to work radically differently. The immediate lack of response to one of the biggest headquarters changes in living memory seemed eerie but slowly, as we invited reactions, furrowed brows turned into angry questions that seemed to rail against the new era dawning:

This is not the job I joined up to do. Are we just going to be reduced to administrators?

Why are you pushing us— is the fast pace really necessary?

Are you really asking us to discuss this or have you made all the decisions already?

Is this the right way to go?

The anger showed that it was becoming harder for people to believe that they could continue the status quo but they were still holding tightly onto freedoms they had enjoyed for decades and onto a tacit understanding among them that someone, somewhere should continue to fund their diverse activities.

The big and difficult message was, “You will cease to exist if you do not deliver results,” and this was bringing people back to uncomfortable questions such as, “What are we really here for?” And, “How do we get enough income to really make a difference?” Although the broad questions of purpose and impact had already been answered by headquarters in a 5-year strategy paper (“Our Impact to Reach Millions More People”) this had not brought clarity to the minds of these 30 people or the 500 country-based staff, who each had a different way of describing what the company does. In this region, 500 staff were busy doing hundreds of commissioned projects and they were angry to be told that their work did not produce the needed impact. The threat that their projects would be stopped made them indignant, hurt, or insecure. Looking back, Akello from West Africa said she felt angry and she was asking herself, “What’s wrong with what we are doing already? Isn’t it enough, isn’t it appreciated?”

Gail, a country director from Ethiopia, felt similarly:

The anxiety was that there’d been all this stuff going on that was perfectly successful and why suddenly do we have to do something different.

Historically, 11 country offices with a public service mission, facing more than their fair share of the world’s worst problems (poverty, conflict, insecurity, disease, lack of skills, lack of democracy, justice, corruption) had a queue of people knocking on their doors with worthy projects. Much of this work had been funded by the UK taxpayer. However, today, over two-thirds of the organization’s funding is from new sources: fee-paying customers, a wide array of corporate clients, including many multinational corporations, and partners such as the European Union and the World Bank. This pulls the teams in various new directions, not necessarily toward the strategy. We could see people, deeply committed to their work, contemplating, grappling, trying to make sense of the change, weighing up options, and understandably finding it uncomfortable to let go. There was still a huge amount of anxiety in the group. As Binte from Senegal said,

I had the fear of a cut in our budget and more being given to bigger countries so that the amounts allocated for my country would be small . . . That’s where the anxiety was. Initially, there were fears of maybe a reduction in the staff, of job losses, also of lack of capacity to deliver some of the products. Some staff felt “Oh this is like removing me from my own country setting and exposing me to a wider context . . . do I have the skills to fit the challenge?”

Ben and I took the loss of good humor, tunnel vision, and anger as signs of an old paradigm shaking and breaking apart, but for Philip the arrows pierced deeply. Outside during the break, he whispered earnestly to me about how members of the group were irritating him with their “feed me” attitudes. It seemed that he was getting caught in his own trap. He had been challenging people to speak out and now they were responding honestly but he didn’t like the negativity of their messages. He noticed “elephants in the room,” including some fear and suspicion that arose from the sacking of a country director but his not being allowed to announce why. We could see how one person had been speaking up in protest for another whose local office was closing. As people began to speak out, the exchanges had become increasingly unpleasant but some people were still “hiding under the blanket.”

Philip’s frustration came across as irrational, and a further sign of the shockwaves that ripple through everyone in a group, including the leader, when a significant mental block is shifting. I reminded him that earlier we had seen people polite, avoiding issues, distracted into digressions and departures, and lifted by denial into false jollity and that the anger coming up from the group was a positive sign of people starting to actively engage. I reassured him that the messages from customers and the United Kingdom underlined the legitimacy of changes he was leading. In other words, his team did not just see their regional director going mad, they could tell he was lined up with the United Kingdom and taking them in a direction they needed to go.

After the break, Philip pushed back with firmness bordering on anger, by confirming that future funding, instead of coming from the United Kingdom, would flow through his office and that countries needed to get used to new levels of accountability, with targets signed up to actually being met. Some uncomfortable facts about funding were put on the table: “Over 50 percent disappears into supporting our infrastructure,” leaving another 50 percent that is frittered away on delivering countless small local products that are largely invisible and without measurable impact.

Unbelievably, I noticed someone asleep at the back of the room! Instead of leaders we still had a room full of victims: some complacent, others confused, shocked, or overwhelmed; some completely shutting down, and others exploding angrily as they found it increasingly difficult to remain in denial. The eight value-creating behaviors we had shown people the previous morning had been temporarily put to one side and people were disconnecting, sulking, or snarling at each other. Now the wave of emotion was affecting me too. Unusually, I was simmering with anger, finding it hard to focus and I could see that Ben was apoplectic!

Our dinner outing that evening was also a bit of a disaster. We climbed onto a private bus in time to reach a local riverside restaurant where at sunset you see the beautiful peak of Mount Cameroon reflected in the water. Somehow the driver misunderstood, got us lost and we missed the sunset.

When we arrived at the restaurant it was shut and they had no record of our booking. Finally, we persuaded the restaurant to open but it still took over an hour for food to come.

The third and final day we pushed the victims to shape up. I held up the mirror contrasting their behavior the previous day with that of high-performing teams. They struggled. One person complained of “jumps in the program,” asking how today’s work related to the previous day’s discussions. During a report back from a subgroup, two people fell into an argument while others stood back and let them.

On a positive note, we were succeeding in getting more minority voices in the room, but usually in dissent. Philip, Ben, and I found that we could rely on the table facilitators to make constructive contributions and we did see a few other brave people step forward making quite impressive presentations but being denied the encouragement they deserved from colleagues. After we had painstakingly listed by name, hundreds of existing products covering all the customer-facing activities of all 11 country operations and clustered and sorted them into core (high impact, central to the mission of the organization—to continue) and peripheral (low impact, tangential to the mission of the organization—to be stopped), we gained agreement on the few big cross-regional products to take forward.

This left team members with some new dilemmas, asking, “Do I want to be part of this? Is this what I joined this organization to do? What is left of my role? Do I have a say or have all the decisions been taken?” They resented being asked to kill off hundreds of products they loved. For some, however, this was a turning point. As Akello said,

I actually had a thought of moving on to do something else but then at the same time I felt one voice in me was telling me “no this is a new challenge, if you have the chance to do it, face this new challenge and it will probably teach me to do things differently.”

Ian from West Africa, who had been more deeply involved in the work leading up to Douala, was more upbeat about the meeting:

People did begin to see the benefits. In those months prior to this meeting, a number of barriers were broken, personal relationships were developing, and people were beginning to see action taking place. Obviously people have commitment to doing things and don’t like the idea of stopping doing them but there was general recognition we were not getting far with our local products.

Most agreed that our 3 days together had been a long slog as we proved beyond doubt that an era was passing. Gabriel later observed the moment when change hits you emotionally:

It was a real shock for me. After people understood the reasons for the change intellectually, it was only later that they really got what it meant for them personally and it was like a mini explosion!

Old ways of working were no longer possible, and people were not happy about it. At the end of the meeting there was a sad and defeated tone to people’s closing comments. The leaders somehow felt abandoned. Philip acknowledged that he was asking a lot, recognized how difficult the meeting had been for everyone, and signaled that the teamwork they had started needed to be continued at a distance after everyone went home.

Ben and I went home cross but not surprised that the new people who had not had the benefit of Nairobi had failed to get it. An ambitious program, combined with unexpected events, had put the group into overload and they had reacted first by reaching for their phones, then by dipping in and out, and finally by appearing sad and confused, sensing trouble ahead. Although too much had been packed in, the end of workshop feedback was not bad, but we were not able to feel proud or professionally fulfilled by the outcome. We could not be confident that country directors would help their staff reprioritize heavy workloads in order to make space for the new regional tasks.

How Do You Approach This Phase?

We tried to understand why this group had created and signed up to a transition plan in Nairobi but done little or nothing since. It seemed that, as in the fable, the chiefs had gone back home and told their people not to worry. As a result, nothing much was happening. Life in “the outlying villages” was continuing as usual.

Changing Attitudes and Behavior

“A leopard can’t change its spots” is often said and usually with disappointment or bitter cynicism when an alcoholic, a gambler, a dieter, or an unfaithful partner lets us down by failing to change in the way that they promised and we hoped. We were disappointed but not yet in despair at the inaction since Nairobi, partly because of the wealth of evidence that proves change is possible.

For example Kurt Lewin, a pioneer in social psychology who escaped from Nazi Germany, demonstrated that for a group to perform intelligently it needs a particular kind of leader who is democratic not autocratic, and to bring about change the leader needs to “unfreeze” the group bringing an emotional stir-up to “break open the shell of complacency and self-righteousness.” Lewin noted that a person’s group is the “ground” for their perceptions, feelings, and actions, and the sum total of all motivations, conflicts, and forces in the group he called a “group field.” So our job was to involve people, stir them up, and in the end transform the “group field” so that each person invests their own energy in making the merger a success (Lewin, 1997).

Leon Festinger, a social psychologist, followed Lewin with a theory of cognitive dissonance, in which he proposed that people experience psychological pain when their behavior does not match their attitudes (Festinger, 1957). For example, if a person believes that smoking is bad for them (their attitude), yet they continue smoking (their behavior), this creates a pressure that is likely to result either in a change to their attitude (“Smoking is not bad for everyone”) or in their behavior (giving up smoking). If participants in our meeting wrongly believed that the work they had been doing in their countries was achieving the needed impact, Philip, the leader, could address either their attitudes or their behavior to bring about change. For example, he could address attitudes by presenting evidence that the work was not having the intended impact. At the same time, he could address behavior by getting people to try out something more effective like helping one another in bigger cross-regional project teams. Currently, people had neither the relevant information to challenge their attitude nor direct experience of alternative ways of working to challenge their behavior.

Letting Go of the Past

Since birth we have all been experiencing change in one form or another and it continues to our graves. We learn to change through participating in rites of passage such as 21st and 40th birthdays, moving homes and jobs, and weddings and funerals. But why is change sometimes so painful? John Bowlby (1951) described how small children attach themselves to their career, almost as ducks imprint on whoever is present at a critical moment. Later, without realizing, we become attached to our home, workplace, friends, workmates, even to our habits and ways of being in control. During change we must let go of the people and things we value, and this entails our identities and boundaries being fundamentally rearranged. We find ourselves painfully betwixt and between, being lost before being found. So how can we recover ourselves more quickly?

The early part of a merger or change program is often difficult and slow, in part because leaders, impatient for new beginnings, fail to honor the amount of time and support their staff need to make sense of what is happening, to let go of the past, and to move on. William Bridges (1980), building on earlier work by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (1973) into bereavement, explained the difference between “change,” which happens in the outer world, and “transition,” which happens inside the skin and takes a little longer:

(Leaders of change) . . . often forget that while the first task of Change Management is to understand the destination and how to get there, the first task of Transition Management is to convince people to leave home. You’ll save yourself a lot of grief if you remember that (Bridges, 1980).

Bridges describes three phases in transition management: letting go, a neutral zone, and then, new beginnings. Letting go is the first priority and in doing so, the leader needs to clarify what is ending. In psychological terms, it is the opposite of a merger. It is a clean separation that requires a shared clarity of what is finishing and what isn’t. It entails a celebration of success, an acknowledgment of the contribution from those in the team, and the leaving behind of emotional baggage such as blame, guilt, or sorrow.

Looking back with hindsight, we did not address letting go directly enough in Nairobi. Letting go is emotional and it is natural for people to be defensive, perhaps in fight, flight, or freeze, giving strong reactions. By the end of a Douala workshop that was deeply frustrating, most were grumpily realizing the inevitable but still isolated in grief for what they were losing.

Reading the Signs of Resistance

Without strong direction from us, the group would use up the entire meeting time talking without reaching any decisions. At the same time, Philip kept trying to push the group into action. We had been dragging the group to produce the transition plan while missing some of the signs of resistance from the group and in approaching the decisions to decommission some of the existing products, we noticed that the team was fearfully holding onto the status quo.

What were the subtle and easy to miss signs of resistance? William Schutz, a psychologist who helped the U.S. Navy overcome problems of conflict in submarine crews, identifies the following signs of resistance: holding rigidly to my position, not listening, misinterpreting, withholding, feeling misunderstood, being easily irritated or angered, avoiding certain topics, not wanting to probe, becoming confused, and losing my sense of humor (Schutz, 1994). He noticed that each of us has different defense mechanisms and identified six defensive postures people tend to take:

  • Denier—there are no problems
  • Victim—I am offended because other people are behaving aggressively/ unreasonably
  • Critic—I know better than you and I pick up on everything that is not perfect, e.g., your grammar, your stupid remark, or your weak idea
  • Self-blamer—everything that happens is my fault
  • Helper—I look for someone to help whether they want it or not
  • Demander—reassure me that I’m OK and there’s nothing wrong with me

A psychologically healthy adult response to a changing environment is to be curious, self-aware, and discriminating—a person assimilates the information and resources that meet their true need. A leader has to extend an individual’s awareness of their need and support them in making choices.

Working Through Resistance

When resistance is identified, then how do you best address it? Arnold Mindell’s method is to recognize that each individual experiencing resistance needs to move through three different positions—as self, as other, and as fly on the wall—before they can resolve their inner conflict (Mindell, 1992). A facilitator’s job is to help a person to express these positions through a process of reflecting on these questions:

  • What is your point of view?
  • What is your colleague’s point of view?
  • What do we each need now?

During this process people often make illogical and contradictory statements and can get quite emotional but the process itself allows a psychological shift to take place. Typically, not only does a person feel better afterward but they are then ready and motivated to take up their responsibility as a leader. Reflecting back on what she had learned from the process we went through, Foluke, one of the African senior managers, summarizes the approach we took like this:

I was resolved not to be deterred by resistance and not to ignore it either. But to understand it and so do something about it.

Creating a Sense of Urgency

John Kotter, a Harvard professor who studied 100 organizations (most of which failed in their efforts to transform), defines the first step of transformation as “creating a sense of urgency” that convinces at least 75 percent of the leadership community of the need for change (Kotter and Cohen, 2002). Typically, leaders are reluctant to give the negative information people need to persuade them that change is necessary. He went on to describe eight steps that need to be completed before an organization has completed a transformation:

  1. Create a sense of urgency—we must do something
  2. Build the guiding team—get the right people on board to drive the change
  3. Get the vision right—give the guiding team a compelling vision to direct the effort
  4. Communicate for buy-in—send credible messages and walk the talk
  5. Empower action—remove barriers to people behaving differently
  6. Create short-term wins—get fast results to diffuse cynicism
  7. Don’t let up—don’t allow urgency to sag, create wave after wave of change
  8. Make change stick—reshape culture, practices, norms, and values.

What Are the Signs of Progress in This Phase?

  1. When team members are exposed to new points of view (as in customer research) and experiment with new behaviors (as in using new behavior in teams to bring the real issues out onto the table) (Festinger).
  2. When team members are bitching and moaning, expressing a mixed up range of mostly negative emotions both about the past and the future, showing that they are beginning to detach and reevaluate the past; later, when this mood has passed they may be ready to celebrate the ending, clearly identifying what is over and what they are bringing from the past with them into the future (Bridges).
  3. When the subtle signs of resistance are identified and people are challenged to get in touch with their true needs (Schutz).
  4. When in spite of the corporate urgency, team members are given enough time, challenge, and support to fully contemplate and explore their dilemmas around what is changing, the benefits and costs of changing and not changing, and finding the real options and choices they have, leading them into a state of mind where they are prepared to change (Mindell).
  5. When at least 75 percent of the leadership population are genuinely convinced that change is necessary (Kotter).

What Tools Can You Use?

In this second phase, the four tools that follow give the leader ways to engage others in addressing these key questions: What new realities do we need to wake up to? How do we get back in control? What can we keep? What do we need to let go of and how?

No 1: Direct Contact With Stakeholders Requiring Change

People need to know what is changing and to understand why. Rather than simply delivering secondhand wake-up calls through Philip or through emails from headquarters, we decided to bring specific people (customers from a new target group and a sponsor from headquarters) into the room to deliver the need for change message directly. This allowed Philip, as leader, to adopt a less adversarial and more facilitative position, helping participants grapple with the contradictions and making meaning out of it.

No 2: Three Circles

When participants are struggling with change and they feel like victims, we ask them in side conversations, what is in their three circles (Marlier and Parker, 2009):

  1. The “outer circle” is sometimes called the “circle of doom” because it is the negative stuff that they cannot influence (see Covey, 1989, pp. 81–88). We offer them five minutes to “bitch and moan” about what is there, but then suggest they stop worrying and let go of concerns they can do nothing about.
  2. We then ask them what is in their inner “circle of control,” pointing out that for most people, even the richest and most powerful on earth, there are few things that they totally control without receiving permission from, or putting out their influence toward, others.
  3. We ask them how they can extend their middle “circle of influence.” Who do you need to connect with and influence and on which topics?

This is an approach that helps people recover a sense of capability and confidence. It recognizes that while our own knowledge and influence may be limited, by connecting with others we can unlock a collective wisdom and capacity. It opens up new possibilities for positive action, and typically, people report feeling better and more proactive after this exercise.

No 3: Holding Up the Mirror

For any team going through change, open, exploratory conversations are necessary. In the denial phase, as they face the harsh facts, buried issues and emotions need to be raised to the surface. In a team, this means each person needs to listen, question, and connect more effectively just when their defenses are causing them to fight, flee, or freeze. To achieve this, we show people how to see and speak about behavior. This gives them a greater sense of control even when they are experiencing some quite strong emotions in the letting go phase. So we conduct a short business simulation in which performance depends on information sharing and teamwork, and we teach people how to use eight value-building behaviors (active listening, open questions, summarizing, support, challenge, clarifying, timeout, and review) that give an edge to high-performance teams. We appoint and carefully brief table facilitators to work the value-building behaviors, reinforcing them through a behavioral contract and behavioral reviews. In each review, the facilitator holds up the mirror to show a group how they can adjust their behavior to raise their performance.

No 4: Managing Endings—Timeline

When a group is holding on to the past they become stuck, stressed, depressed, numb, or low in energy. You can use a tool called Timeline as follows:

  1. Each person identifies their key events (good and bad) since joining the organization, writes them each on a separate post-it, and posts them on a chronological line on a long wallchart.
  2. The group gathers round, asks questions, and looks for themes.
  3. Each person then shares their proudest and sorriest moments and also declares something they needed to leave behind (a behavior or an attitude) and something they want to bring with them (a memento, skill, or quality) into the future. As they take turns to make these declarations, they physically step over a line into the future.

What Is the Evidence of Completing This Phase?

  • Ideally, all members of a team will have identified what to leave behind and what to bring with them. They will have drawn a line that marks the decision to change and stepped over the line from the past into the future.
  • The leadership community may still feel sad, defeated, fragmented, and lost. It’s an ending with a deep sense of loss and this opens the possibility of a proactive phase to come.
  • Realistically, the leader and facilitators may be angry, having received the group’s resistance.

The key aspects of Phase 2 are summarized in Figure 4.1 Tips

Figure 4.1 Phase 2 summary

  • Strike a balance between focusing on internal change and external delivery, and keep pushing for action.
  • Don’t worry when people express strong negative feelings—it can often mean that they are moving their attitudes and coming on board.

Seek facilitator/coach support to work through the negative emotion coming in your direction from others during the denial phase.