Disruption after transformative events: the Satir Change Model

July 28, 2009
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The impact on group performance of a well assimilated change during the five stages of the Satir Change Model

Steven Smith has a very interesting post discussing the Satir Change Model – a model of group process which charts the impact of innovations in organisational dynamics.

Smith discusses the impact of change on organisational dynamics.  The Satir Change model is derived from family psychology, which tracks the changes in family behaviour after the introduction of a new or disruptive event.

What the model finds is that after a new way of acting or behaving is adopted, there is a drop in performance often followed by a period of chaos or disruption.  This then restabilises to a higher level than before after group members internalise and embrace the circumstances of the new condition.

Clark Quinn then comments upon this, applying the model to organisational change.  He suggests that breaking new conditions or changes of behaviour into small, bite sized chunks might actually help reduce the negative aspects associated with change adoption.  Introducing these at the right time, and in the right order, may be the key to progressive, ongoing organisational change.

Smith then summarises this process in a table, reproduced below:

ctions for each stage that will help a group change more quickly and effectively.

Actions for each stage that will help a group change more quickly and effectively.

Many thanks to Steven and Clark for discussing this issue in the context of organisational change.

What lessons might this hold for humanitarian bearocratic change in the face of increasing numbers of disruptive, change-inducing events? Depending on the magnitude and frequency of these events (both increasing), it is possible that such organisations could hypothetically be driven down a process of ever decreasing performance if such changes happen fast enough.  On the other hand, embracing and understanding a model such a this (if it works in the context of your organisation) could help managers better navigate these changes.

UPDATE – This also suggests that in order for organisations to learn and improve, they must be subject to creative, disruptive, potentially even destructive events.  If one is serious about change management and organisational adaptation, doesn’t it make sense to bring about such small events in order to help agencies and organisations better strengthen their “immune systems” in this regard?  In this case, do the ends justify the means?

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Learning from children: strategy, tactics and games in times of rapid change

July 20, 2009

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Are there lessons in how children learn that might help us adults, and the organisations we run, learn from turbulent environments and make better decisions in times of change?

Watching my 9 month old child grow up, I was struck by how inventive and experimental his learning style can be.  Like all children, his life is a constant stream of novelty and change.  He has very little control, has no sense of why or how things work, yet learns quicker and more effectively than most adults and at a rate which makes organisations look positively glacial.  He also seems to enjoy it much more than most adults I know as well.

A colleague recommended reading the classic book “How Children Learn”, by John Holt.  That book is reviewed here, here and here.  I have transcribed relevant excerpts below, and interpret them in the context of organisational learning and strategic change management.

When children attack a new problem, they begin to play, almost at random.  This generates a tremendous amount of sensory data. A scientist might say that, along with his useful data, the child has collected an enormous quantity of random, useless data.  The trained scientist wants to cut all irrelevant data out of his experiment.  He is asking nature a question, he wants to cut down the noise, the static, the random information, to a minimum, so he can hear the answer.  But a child doesn’t work that way.  He is used to getting answers out of the noise.  He has, after all, grown up in a strange world where everything is noise, where can only understand and make sense of a tiny part of his experiences.  His way of attaching a problem is to produce the maximum amount of data possible, to do as many things as he can, [in as many] ways as possible.  then, as he goes along, he begins to notice regularities and patterns.  He begins to ask questions – that is, to make deliberate experiments.  But it is vital to note that until he has a great deal of data, he has no idea what questions to ask, or what questions there are to be asked.

This is a marvellous phrase, “he has no idea what questions to ask, or what questions there are to be asked.”  How many of us have felt this way, when honestly considering the complexities we face in our daily lives?

The young child, at least until his thinking has been spoiled by adults, has a great advantage in situations… where there is so much seemingly senseless data that it is impossible to tell what questions to ask.  He is much better at taking in this kind of data; he is better able to tolerate its confusion; and he is much better at picking out the patterns, hearing the faint signal amid all the noise.  Above all, he is much less likely than an adult to make hard and fast conclusions on the basis of too little data, or having made such conclusions, to refuse to consider any new data that does not support them.

Reading Holt contains excellent lessons for decision-makers faced with complex, changing landscapes.  They must first understand what kinds of problems they are facing and what kinds of questions must be asked.

This can only be done through experimentation.  But not the kind of experimentation taught to us in the science lab.  The kind of experimentation that doesn’t need to be taught, that is, through play.

But not just any kind of play.  Play doesn’t work if it isn’t fun.  Play minus fun equals labour, which doesn’t have the same learning benefits.

The spirit behind [children’s games] should be a spirit of joy, foolishness, exuberance, like the spirit behind all good games, include the game of trying to find out how the work works, which we call education.

Only through play, then – through random, iterative, and fundamentally joyful experimentation – can we begin to understand how and why the world is changing.  And only through play can we generate the notions and motivations necessary to interact successfully with it.

Surprising insights from an author who specialises in, well, children’s games.  Perhaps management strategy need not be as serious and we like to think.

UPDATE – See my similar post on “Rules for Emergent Experimentation“, which reaches similar conclusions and proposes guidelines for play in the context of organisational learning.


Creating organisational resilience, Part II

March 5, 2009

UPDATE – There is a second paper of interest which supports the findings of our previous past (permalink), from same journal issue.  The paper, entitled, “Enhancing Organizational Resilience Through Emergency Planning: Learnings from Cross-Sectoral Lessons” (full text PDF), compares “lessons learned” from post-disaster learning exercises for a series of major disasters in the UK and has interesting implications for Somers’ work above.

 The authors found that common themes among post-disaster feedback exercises were:

  1. the importance of process in emergency preparedness
  2. persistent underestimation of possibility and severity of accidents occurring again
  3. the value of creating a “safety culture” through-out the organisation
  4. ambiguity in the role, purpose, and efficacy of command and control structures
  5. the need to communicate better with the media and public
  6. the importance and general lack of attentiont for attending to the “long term welfare” of crisis responders and victims, and
  7. a general need for training disaster responders in non-technical skills (such as situation awareness, better communication, etc.)

Of these, we find the first two the most interesting and important, vis-a-vis the work of the Humanitarian Futures Programme.  The need to communicate and interact better with non-traditional actors, including the media, general public, and academia is also particularly important.