What is change? Most leaders envision change as a sort of journey – a corporate quest from point A to point B. They’ve got a roadmap with landmarks and a well-defined end goal. But this metaphor is misleading.
Here’s the key message: Change is a never-ending process, not a one-time event.
Here’s the problem with thinking of change as a journey: travel is sequential. You move from one leg of the journey to the next. But change isn’t a series of steps. It’s not a map you can follow.
Imagine pouring milk into a mug of coffee. There’s an almost immediate color change, from black to brown, as the two liquids merge. Change should look more like that – like a transformative assimilation rather than a well-executed plan.
But to achieve such change, you have to change the way you change. No more change initiatives imposed from on high. No more CEOs decreeing company values. You can’t change a bureaucratic hierarchy with tools fired in a hierarchical, bureaucratic forge.
How should you change? Well, change should be continuous and participatory.
One way to ensure continuous, participatory change is to introduce a technique called looping.
There are three stages, arranged in a loop, with the last leading back to the first: identifying tensions, proposing practices, and conducting experiments.
Loops can happen quickly or slowly, on a vast or a small scale. Let’s imagine a loop within a team to see how it works.
Let’s say the team identifies a tension: “only the loudest voices get heard.” A practice that might eliminate this tension is introducing a check-in at the beginning of all meetings. Prompt your team with a question, such as, “What color is your mood?”
Now try it out! Go around in a circle, having everyone respond to the prompt. Does it bring everyone into the present and give each voice space in the room? If not, keep proposing practices and conducting experiments until the tension is resolved.
There’s no way to make a list of every tension in existence, and a practice that works for one team or organization won’t necessarily work for another. Remember: we’re dealing with complex systems. If you keep that in mind, however, and empower your colleagues and teammates to do the same, you’ll be well on your way to doing the best work of your life.