Support for Purpose: Situational Awareness for Change Leaders

This entry was written as part of the Supporting Agile Adoption program, an Agile Alliance initiative dedicated to supporting organizations and their people to become more Agile.

We have seen Agile transformations being disrupted by a lack of awareness that the transformation is a journey that needs different support in each particular context and situation.

Change Management is an Art

Change “management” (if that exists) is an art. It is the art of being aware of the self-organization phenomena at play and being able to interact with those phenomena in order to influence them. Also, these phenomena are highly contextual and situational and thus unstable.

Effective change leaders are aware of both the situation and context and take the needs of these into account when guiding change and creating effective related interventions.

Now, you may think you are aware of your situation, but, in fact, you probably aren’t! A telling sign might be that things start to happen you did not expect.

For example, you have your change strategy laid out, and you are progressing in executing change initiatives. You have worked hard to get feedback loops and measurements in place to see the progress. And somehow on your dashboards and in your obeya rooms you see progress, but you sense something isn’t right.

Is your confirmation bias allowing you to see only what you expect?

You might begin to wonder: What do I not see? How can I break through this potentially veiled perception?

So, how can you grow your awareness of the context and situation?

First Step – Become Aware

The first step is to become aware that there is “something” and trust yourself that this “something” provides you with an important signal.

What might you learn–either about yourself and/or the organization–by allowing the signal and not pushing it away? What might you learn by embracing it and assessing what might be learned when you observe the situation from a different perspective?

Second Step  – Begin to Understand

The next step is to try to understand what that “something” is that you might become aware of. Intellectually, you can’t fully grasp it yet. You might feel you need and want to shift perspectives, but you seem locked in your current perspective.

In order to shift perspective and create a deeper understanding of your context and situation, what can you do?

Here are some concrete suggestions by looking both inward or outward.

Looking Outward

Look outward and learn from others: explicitly invite different perspectives.

  • Ensure that you use organizational retrospectives to listen and detect patterns to implement a discipline that allows spending time with emergent feelings, patterns, and sentiments.
  • Run a world café to use the “wisdom of the crowd.” Invite people with diverse backgrounds and views to share and discuss their perspectives.
  • In a workshop, gain a different view by using, for example, DeBono’s six thinking hats or the three different perspectives by the Disney method.

Looking Inward

Look inward and explore your own reactions. Understand your (limiting) beliefs and biases by interacting with other people who will challenge your own perspective.

  • Feel the friction. Things are happening that are not desirable. Friction will signal what is “not yet right” and where systemic attention needs to be directed. Feeling friction is, first of all, inside you! For example, when you feel disturbed by something somebody is saying or something that is happening, try to not get upset, but rather examine where this disturbance comes from: might it be, that your ego is at play? Sometimes, when you are completely honest to yourself, your feelings of being disturbed might make your (limiting) belief transparent.
  • Learn how to listen attentively. Repeat back to others what you are hearing without judging. Be as precise as possible in repeating back and also be open for corrections. Listen to what they have to offer and only ask clarifying questions.
  • When bringing different perspectives together, don’t look for sameness, seek differences. Establishing cross-functional teams is a good start.
  • Listen and be open to your inner voice by allowing this phase of “not knowing.” Allowing this phase of “non-judgmental awareness” will provide you with a more inclusive perspective.

Learn to Trust Yourself

The above suggestions will enable you to see and collect different perspectives and discuss them with other people, so you make more sense of your context and situation. Based on that understanding, you will become able to derive what kind of intervention could help to effectively lead the change. This way, you will have a better idea of what the next steps on your change journey need to be.

Over time, after having practiced increasing your awareness, allow yourself to trust that you have gained enough insights to take the next step. And this next step will be to initiate suitable interventions.

Awareness and sharpening your senses with the help of others help you to grow to the next level of your change leader maturity.

This is an Agile Alliance community blog post. Opinions represented are personal and belong solely to the author. They may not represent the opinion or policy of Agile Alliance.

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