Dancing Through Transition
I think about transition a lot. In a five-year span I had two babies, lost both of my parents and my very special aunt, left an organization I worked in for fifteen years, and launched Arboreta Group with my partners [*deep breath*]. How we manage transition is important and we are doing it all the time, big and small, good and bad. At times I have managed transitions with the grace of a dancer using the whole stage and everyone on it to highlight every skill that years of practice have bestowed upon me. Other times I drank a little too much wine and cried in the shower limping through a few days. More often I fall somewhere in between the tearful lump and the dancer full of grace.
These were just the big ones. The big life-changing transitions that everyone talks about. We move through transitions all the time, from professional to caregiver, learner to teacher, watching TV to cleaning our room. I recently started doing Bodypump classes which are basically lifting weights to different rhythms in different combinations. I had one instructor who was not skilled at preparing us with the transition from one combination to another. I found it so frustrating not knowing what I was supposed to do next or slowing down when we were supposed to speed up.
It made me think of the many trainings and group facilitations I do and how important it is to set up activities well and to plan for a clear and smooth transition into and out of them. People do not want to go with you if they are confused about where they are going and why. It also made me think of how fast I sometimes move as a parent expecting my kids to switch from place to place or one activity to another without warning. Without a transition time they may get angry, sad, frustrated, and excited sometimes. In the meantime, I have taken time to prepare, sometimes reluctantly, but I give myself time to think of what I am doing next, wrap up what I am currently doing or accept the fact that I am going to have to finish it later, and then move on.
I have always paid attention to how people and organizations handle transition…or do not. I almost always find that when care is not paid to properly support transitions, they do not go well, and people do not feel good about it. They may feel angry, hurt, and burnt out. They may adjust and stay, they may leave and take valuable institutional knowledge with them, heck they might even sue the organization because of perceived and/or real damages.
About ten years ago a training team I admired introduced Bridge’s Transitions Framework (pictured to the right) in an anti-oppression training. There were two things I really appreciated about Bridge’s framework. First, it acknowledges that it is not the change itself that is hard. Change is quick. It may come out of nowhere or be planned but it is momentary. The “thing” happens and then it is over. Your baby is born, your mom dies, the CEO resigns, the strategic plan is approved, the new data system goes live, and then it is done. It is the transition around that moment where the pain and joy and process lie. Second, I like the acknowledgment of the “neutral zone,” this is the hard part where we have to let go of the old way and figure out the new way. It is like letting go of the trapeze without knowing the other person is going to be there to grab. Or the point in the journey where you are afraid to keep going but you are too far to go back now. It feels like we are living in the neutral zone in at least one area of our lives all the time!
The neutral zone is the time that needs support and resources. It is the time when our wonderful plans can crumble or when we create things that we could not have even imagined before we jumped off that platform. The formal and informal leaders in your organization, as well as outside experts or analysts, can help bridge between giving up the old way and integrating the new way. Think about doing some of the following:
- Create a gap analysis. A gap analysis can help figure out what kinds of systems, support and/or training the organization needs to implement to get from where they are now to where they want to be after fully transitioning.
- Train and support. Enlist the early adopters in your organization to advise the process and to train and support others.
- Listen. Part of transitioning is preparing everyone for the change if it is anticipated and supporting them through their fear and other feelings about what they are letting go of and the uncertainty about where they are going. Listen. Listen several times to several people. Think about how much you thought and talked about the last major change you made. Organizational management may have been planning for this for a long time, but others have not, be patient.
- Be transparent! Let people know the details about when things are going to happen and why. Let them know what kind of support and training the organization will offer to build their skills if necessary. And if the organization will not be providing support and training then let them know that too so they can make informed choices.
- Call on outside support. A consultant (like Arboreta Group!) can offer an objective perspective and expertise in organizational development and training systems to support the transition. They can assess staff and other key stakeholders confidentially, provide coaching, build capacity in diverse areas of expertise, and/or work as extension of staff temporarily to set up systems or longer-term to fill a small but important gap. Whomever you choose in this role they should be honest and objective, transparent about their process, and a cheerleader that does not sugar coat anything.
Here is to gracefully dancing through transition!
by Jessie Towne-Cardenas