I think that difficult change & transformation work is not avoidable. I also think that we could do the difficult stuff better. As an extreme example, I use redundancies that I witnessed. The process was brutal and traumatised colleagues for months after they received their termination letters (often from a secretary that had no answers to their questions). Then there are the examples of organisations who go out of their way to ensure that the redundancy process is as non-traumatic as possible. It can therefore be done, but how? By convening people through dialogue to participate in the co-creation of 'spaces' in which to do this work!
The best way that I can describe these spaces that I help create and hold is to draw on an experience in remote West Africa. The spaces that I create and hold remind me of a storm shelter that we used in Liberia. It was a massive reinforced sea container (painted red) that had openings but no closable doors and windows (yes, these were safety features!). When a thunderstorm struck we ran and got into the shelter to try and shield us form the worst of the storm: from lightening, and from massive falling trees – the reason why we did not go and hide in the cars is because the trees would flatten them! We still got wet though, still had a chance of being injured, and still had some sense of discomfort, yet we were able to pause and become still while looking at the storm from within. We were able to prepare ourselves for the next step. The shelter stopped the storm from battering us yet did not keep all elements of the storm out.
In an organisation these spaces are aimed at dampening the sting of pressure or stress long enough so that we can work with it. There are various different practical approaches and theoretical lenses that can be used to create the right space for a particular organisation. One of the key components in achieving this is to engage in conversation (or dialogue). Dialogue, is defined by Isaacs (1999), as:
“a conversation with a center, not sides” (p. 18)
Creating something new by working through our differences
“The intention of dialogue is to reach new understanding and, in doing so, to form a totally new basis from which to think and act” (p. 18)
“[It’s] a conversation in which people think together in relationship” (p. 19)
By engaging in dialogue we are able to examine the issues at hand in a way that puts them in a new perspective. Through dialogue we change our focus from the problem to the people dealing with the problem. Yes! Having a dialogue has the power to transform what goes on in organisations. “The key to creating or transforming community […] is to see the power in the small but important elements of being with others” (Block, 2008, p. 9). Block (2008, p. 26) continues to say that sustainable change and transformation is dependant of small steps taken at a slow speed.
These dialogic spaces allows us to slow down enough to encourage dialogue and therefore bring the initial steps of transformation and change into play. Slowing down may feel like the wrong thing to do when making life & death decisions yet the reality is that the best decisions are made by stepping back a bit (read here about stepping back)....