I can hear your frustration in your letter. You’ve served on the board, you’ve done the work and you’ve given the best you can – and still your association fails to change, you write.
You’d like to help them overcome this stuckness as a neutral party, as a facilitator. I applaud your stance. This world needs more people who have the courage to say: “Things aren’t working so well around here. I want to help to improve them.” I also appreciate that you don’t claim to have all the answers or insist on your solutions. You want to help them get moving again – whatever shape that might take.
Here’s one thing you need to know when engaging in this an organizational change process: Even if you know you are right, telling people that they are wrong will only increase their resistance. They will mount a fight as long as you fail to acknowledge their efforts, praise their achievements and bring in some positive spirit. It’s about the shared vision and purpose, in the end.
As you embark on this adventure of infusing your association with new momentum, keep these steps in mind. They have helped me more than once.
- Identify the owner of the change, the person that really wants this to happen and is willing to invest some time. You might find that this person is not at the top of the hierarchy. That is okay. You might find more than one person. That is good, too. If you can’t find anyone – then there’s either no need for change or YOU are the owner. That’s also okay, but it’s important for you to know it.
- Convene a conversation. You will know whether it is most appropriate to speak with people individually or in a group setting. Keep it informal and explorative, but don’t forget to take notes. You might want to ask: How does our association look like when the problem doesn’t exist anymore? In which moments do we already do well? How important is this issue to you and why?
- Identify the smallest possible next step and use it to generate momentum. Maybe you need to find an official venue for a discussion. As you want to make improvements to organizational policies: Which one is up for review anyway? Is there one that is so obviously outdated that everybody agrees on the needs? Maybe you could look at some other organizations as examples or run a workshop at your annual conference.
- While you work on this step, apply the qualities, principles and values that you want to bring into the organization to the way you work. That way you can demonstrate that it is possible to create momentum, listen well, build community. Small changes will make way for big changes. Make sure that you keep the focus of your work away from blame and broken structures, and instead talk about interactions, systems and a future where the problem is solved.
- Take good care of yourself and your mates. Organizational change is difficult and takes time. If you want to go far, go slowly. Take time to connect personally with your companions on this journey, cheer them on and support them. Listen to your own body and your own needs, and make sure that you don’t forget why you’ve embarked on this project.
- Embrace not-knowing and the groan zone. Every big, meaningful project comes to a point where some people are losing faith in it while others want to get over with it and implement it already. It can feel like nothing is moving – while actually, on an unconscious level, the project is nearing a breakthrough. It’s okay to not always have an answer – but do trust the process, especially when things get hard.
You asked me for pointers and resources, and I noticed that I cannot give you a single guidebook to lead your way. Things that have inspired me include:
- The Solutions Focus (Jackson/McKergow 2002)
- Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making (Kaner 1998)
- The Art of Hosting Workbook (various authors 2010)
- Presence (Senge/Scharmer/Jaworski/Flowers 2004)
I hope these thoughts are useful in some way, and I wish you courage and grounding as you embark on this project.