Organizations that think (and what they do that others can’t)

After what seems like a seriously long time – more than a decade – helping leaders lead change, I feel like I’m just breaking the surface of the water.

And in my 3-month-old job as doctoral student (which already seems seriously long to those around me; last night, I overheard my partner say, “yeah, Julie’s been in school for about a year now”), I’ve just begun what I hope will be a revealing deep dive into understanding the relationship between individual and organizational change.

Here’s the question that’s keeping me up at night: How might leaders create the conditions for highly engaged, wildly successful, knock-the-socks-off-your-audience change?

We don’t know much

I’ve just begun scanning the research, but one thing’s abundantly clear: change is constant, and we actually don’t know much about how to do it well. There’s a second thing we know for sure (and you probably know from experience): during organizational change, the rate of conflict increases dramatically. Few organizations handle this well; instead, stress, burnout, turnover and missed opportunities and information abound.

Thinking partners who aren’t echo chambers

So what’s the alternative? As five-time CEO and TED speaker Margaret Heffernan puts it, “A fantastic model of collaboration: thinking partners who aren’t echo chambers.”

Margaret Heffernan’s piercing TED talk offers a compelling reframe of conflict as a source of strategic advantage, and based on my experience with client groups, this is especially critical during change. So first, I’ll show a little leg on Margaret’s behalf…

How do organizations think? For the most part, they don’t. Not because they don’t want to. They can’t, because the people inside them are too afraid of conflict.

Fully 85% of European and American executives in organizations say they don’t bring up issues or concerns at work because they’re afraid of the conflict that would provoke.

…Those of us who run organizations and have gone out to get the best people mostly fail to get the best out of them.

To not be afraid of conflict, we need to see it as thinking – and get really good at it.

– Margaret Heffernan, TED talk

… and then, encourage you to call your own ad hoc 12-minute think break to absorb her rewarding talk below. Have at it!