From my perspective, people as individuals often fear change. I know I do. But I’ve learned that people working as self-organizing work groups in organizations fear change far less than they did when working as individuals. These groups appear to support people in being more flexible and adaptable, not to mention more creative and resilient, than they are on their own. This appears to be because as part of these groups individuals can move within their organizations as more whole beings. They get to be more of themselves at work and get to draw on the full abilities of the whole group. From there, they can literally see more, hear more, and do more than they could before.
Putting words to what I’ve witnessed in the groups I’ve studied and been part of makes them sound a bit “woo woo” (as many of my friends in high tech would say). But these groups aren’t woo woo in practice. These groups get things done. They foster change and bring forth organizational leaders. They allow members–and many nearby others–to see more potential and possibility than they could imagine on their own. I’ve seen these groups change large business divisions and whole organizations. I’ve seen them generate and demonstrate new product and service ideas, change division-wide processes, add new roles and titles to an organization, draw new people and groups into an organization, involve customers and partners and students in planning and learning, get silo’d divisions and departments to work together, improve employee and teacher and manager and administrator performance, improve job satisfaction and self-confidence, and push high school student graduation rates up near 100%.
Why do people resist change at work? One idea is that it’s because they haven’t recognized themselves as part of a greater whole at work yet. They are disconnected from the greater whole, and they are putting their individual self and needs first (or those of their own team/department/division), because that’s what matters most to them. Do savvy arguments, logic, data, spreadsheets, graphs, and pie charts–brought forth by another individual or formal team–make these individuals change? Not in my experience. However, I’ve witnessed self-organizing work groups demonstrate to themselves and many nearby others that they are all part of a greater whole. Not because of what they said, but because of what they are. The possibilities their simple existence demonstrates. Once people experience these possibilities for themselves, they begin to believe there is a greater whole that matters and can begin to recognize themselves as such. What they thought they were (and did, and needed, as individuals) no longer makes sense, so they change. Themselves.
Another idea is that maybe, actually, people don’t resist change. Maybe all people have it in them to thrive in chaos, embrace change, and foster change. Maybe we do this every day and are doing this right now. Maybe human beings are amazing creatures that, like other living creatures on the planet, are capable of bringing forth change and changing themselves in an instant. Personally, to believe this, I first had to let go of the idea that I could make even one “other” person change. (My husband is SO happy about this.) Maybe someone truly amazing—like Gandhi or Nelson Mandela or Maya Angelou or someone–could get to this belief on his or her own. Not me. As an individual–no way. It was only by recognizing myself as a self-organizing work group member, and then studying other groups like ours for years, that I became capable of believing this. And it is only through my continued participation in self-organizing groups and work groups than I am able to hang on to this perspective. For me, the change that needs to happen is always in myself. Fortunately, today–most of the time–my “self” isn’t as small as I once believed.