13 June 2015

Adaptive Change

As a leader, I have learnt a lot about three barriers in particular. (Don't get me wrong... everyday has presented new learning and unforeseen challenges - most of which I have absolutely enjoyed!) To be totally  honest I had not even considered these areas and hence it is fair to say that this is where my biggest learning in leadership has been so far.
  1. Assumptions: of myself and others.
  2. Thresholds: the different places, practices, beliefs, mantra that we have come from.
  3. Change: adaptation is a major challenge even when it is a change that we were looking for.
I have just spent some time dipping in and out of Heifetz's book, "Leadership Without the Answers" and have been thinking about the challenge of change... 

Heifetz identifies two types of challenges: adaptive and technical. The technical challenges are solved by experts ie. there is a known fix for the challenge. Technical change occurs when the problem is easy to define, a solution is obvious and implementation is clear. Adaptive challenges require new learning and the change must come from the collective intelligence of the team. This, says Heifetz, is key to learning the way  towards solutions. 

Fullan's wrote of "Three forces converging to break open prodigious possibilities" in  "A Rich Seam; How New Pedagogies find Rich Learning" last year. Amongst the three was his reference to change leadership merges top-down, bottom-up and sideways energies to generate change that is faster and easier than anything seen in the past efforts at reform. 

With some reflection, I think that many of us came to the point we are at right now expecting to face technical change. After all, we have this magnificent building and a team of passionate people. Having said that, there is no manual for this pedagogical shift, there are very few who have made significant changes and it is fair to say that no one has got it yet... We are surrounded by a change that cannot be fixed or lead by technical change. 

I am hugely mindful that we need to grow our organisation from within. We do not need to actively seek external expertise but instead, must keep asking ourselves the 'why' so that we have a shared understanding of the belief and the principles and practices will evolve collectively. It is also important that the team has a belief that we have the capacity to change because of the systems in place such as TAI and possibly design thinking (something I would like to explore and possibly implement into our professional learning meetings).

Heifitz suggests five strategic principles for leading adaptive change:
  1. Take a look at the 'big picture' and identify the adaptive change so that is can be addressed. He also make mention of Jim Collins here and the need to, " confront the brutal facts".
  2. Ensure that the climate maintains in the productive zone of disturbance so that the team is able to maintain functionality but also learn new things and think creatively about the possible solutions. I liked his metaphor: "keep the heat up without blowing up the vessel".
  3. Make sure that everyone is engaged and minimise the distractions including scapegoating, denial or blaming people as opposed to the issue. It is interesting that Heifitz also mentions here that it is easy to pretend that the challenge is technical rather than adaptive and also that people have a tendency to slip back into old behaviours unless the focus is kept at the forefront.
  4. Share the load; allow others to take responsibility for the challenge and the change but at a rate that they can handle it. Change happens best when confidence is instilled with encouragement and support and if everyone is a part of the change. 
  5. Encourage voice; everyone needs to be heard including the 'dissenters'. Celebrate the input and suggestions from every team player.