Welcome to our series on Reframing Change. In these articles, we’ll reflect on our relationship with change, how we’ve been socialized to resist or embrace change, how change depends on self-trust, and how we can evolve the way we change. We also share how we made change part of our values and working agreements so that we can co-create with safety and trust. And we describe how we partner with clients through difficult changes.
In 2021, Leverage to Lead created a set of company values and team working agreements that named collaboration and change as values we hold and rely on. As often happens, the need arose from conflict.
Jennifer viewed change as both a standard and an expectation. For her, the team was already continuously changing the learning materials she had developed on strength finding, values, deep listening, and more. It was thrilling to see colleagues developing her ideas, adapting them to fit client needs, and evolving them. And it took inner agility for Jennifer to see her work changed by others.
The wonderful thing about Human-Centered Practices is that we as facilitators are changed every time we experience them, and their experiences inform how the materials get updated or re-presented.
Our Socialization Against Change
However, sometimes, the team’s changes to the materials weren’t impactful or successful, even if they did help the team learn and grow. Feedback landed hard sometimes. In play with power dynamics, change requests could cause people to feel torn down or not good enough.
Our broader culture often equates people with their mistakes–you make a mistake, therefore you are the mistake. And colleagues carried this messaging onto the team. We’re also socialized with perfectionism and individualism, believing we have to get it right the first time and on our own. It’s the opposite of co-creation and makes us deeply resistant to, and even offended by change. We can make assumptions about people’s motivations, and our relationships start to strain under the tension.
There’s also the issue of the psychological safety required to change and co-create. If people don’t feel safe or comfortable, if they don’t trust each other, if they don’t feel a sense of shared purpose, then change requests are going to feel like attacks on their best work. We need psychological safety to tolerate the uncertainty of change. Without it, we can’t practice the inner agility needed to get through the discomfort.
We can begin creating that safety with a values statement and working agreement about change.
Which is where we found ourselves in 2021.
Co-creation Requires Intimacy
Though it can take time to develop skills in collaboration and co-creation, in the end, it’s the quality of our relationships that will allow us to change together or hinder us. There are theories about time–six months, eight months, a year–when employees start to hit challenges that get in the way of thriving. And maybe there is some truth to the idea that there are common struggles with belonging and safety that arise at certain times. But it really comes down to how you are, and how you want to be, in relationship with others. In order to truly co-create together, there has to be intimacy.
If you want to come to work, get your tasks done, and leave, there’s really no opportunity for intimacy. We’re not saying colleagues need to know all the details of your personal life, but that there must be vulnerability that inspires trust. It is vulnerable to share your ideas, perspectives, doubts, and differing opinions. It’s risky. But there is no co-creating without it.
Creating a values statement and working agreements put a foundation under us and gave us a shared vocabulary. It also gave people a standard to align with. Not everyone did. Not everyone wanted to share their emotions, ask for what they needed, lean into their autonomy, work through power dynamics, or be vulnerable. And really, that was okay. It was crucial to figure out so we could all make fully informed decisions.
Ultimately, we hold to our belief that we have never known a system without oppression, so we have to create one. To create something we have never seen, felt, or known before, we have to change together, continuously, vulnerably, and hopefully.