Written by Stephen Manley
This article first appeared in the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) Insights.
One of the biggest challenges when implementing change is bringing people along with your vision for what could be. But it could be simpler than you think.
There's an icebreaker exercise that I run with teams of between 15 and 20 people. The task is for the team to throw three tennis balls to each team member in a predetermined sequence, and to make a series of isolated improvements with the aim of performing this task in the fastest possible time. Recently, while running this exercise something occurred to me that got me thinking about change and mind-set needed to make it more likely to happen.
THE CHANGE MANAGEMENT ICE-BREAKER TASK
On this specific occasion, I gave the team the brief for this task - with very little guidance. After they had done their first attempt, I informed them of how long it took them. After this first round, I asked them:
Do you think you can improve upon this?
The team answered in the affirmative, so I invited them to demonstrate this improvement. The team went about agreeing some changes and we ran the exercise again. I then revealed their new result - which confirmed that they had indeed made an improvement.
THE POWER OF A REPEAT QUESTION
Again, I asked if they could improve further and so we repeated this process. Around the third iteration, this team was in the habit. They no longer required the 'can you improve' stimulus from me - and they proceeded trying to improve anyway as they become accustomed to the requirements of the exercise.
THE CRUCIAL IMPASSE IN CHANGE MANAGEMENT
Unsurprisingly, most teams reach a point of achievement where their improvement efforts grind to a halt. On this occasion, this was around the fifth or sixth iteration of the exercise. Usually I would take the opportunity to conclude the exercise, praise the efforts of the team and reflect on what we experienced in the activity. Not this time.
THE QUESTION OF PRODUCTIVITY YOU NEED TO ASK
As the team were 'high-fiving' each other having improved over five rounds from a time of 52 seconds down to five seconds, I personally felt that the team could go even further.
With this, I asked:
"What would you do if I told you that that I've seen a team do it in less than three seconds?"
The team quickly scrambled back into their positions and started to come up with more radical improvement ideas with even more gusto than had been observed previously. Lo and behold, after the next timed run the team finished in less than two seconds. It was a fantastic achievement.
In the discussion after this exercise we reviewed the team recalled that I had said: "another team had done it and therefore we knew it could be done. You motivated us."
It was a light bulb moment. The simple act of asking a question clearly embedded a suggestion in the minds of the team that day - and quite a powerful one too. Something that was previously believed as being impossible was now believed to be possible.
WHAT THIS QUESTION TELLS US ABOUT CHANGE MANAGEMENT
Facts and evidence are important when motivating us to change. However, in the ice-breaker task, I, the facilitator, did not motivate the team.
The team chose to motivate themselves once their thinking moved from a mind-set of 'impossibility' to 'possibility'.
This will-to-win was clearly important: beliefs are fuelled by something much more powerful than 'evidence' and 'facts'. They're fuelled by what's important to us. Our values.
To change behaviour we need emotional importance (the shared value of winning) and a belief of possibility (logical achievement).
Sometimes our ability to lead others successfully through change cannot be guaranteed by our previous experience but in our ability to be confident and assured in the absence of facts and logic.
Incidentally, long after this exercise I found myself learning different questions to ask of teams to encourage a change in thinking to drive a change in behaviour. Some examples:
What would you change if you knew you could make a real difference?
What haven't you tried yet that could really solve this problem?
What can you improve to help you to be the person you really want to be? And finally, one question for you…
What questions haven't you asked yet that could really make a difference for you and those whom you lead?
About the author - Stephen Manley is the Coaching Director at Spitfire, a consulting firm with a global reach across Europe, North America, Middle East & Africa. Stephen works with individuals, teams and organisations worldwide to achieve transformational change in thinking, behaviours and ultimately results. Get in touch to learn more LinkedIn
"We were very impressed by the quality of the delivered solution, as well as of professionalism of the consultants, their understanding of our complex internal processes and their commitment to quality and respect of deadlines."Global Train Manufacturer
"With Spitfire's support we have been able to identify impressive savings and with the tools and coaching they provided we will be able to identify even greater savings. The Spitfire team were impressive from the start, quickly becoming part of the team and working in a structured way."Material Planning - Ordering Officer Aerospace Company (UK)
"At the end of the project we made quite a few changes to our existing systems. The best outcome is the change to the way we now think within the department whenever we are reviewing even the simplest of procedures, we find ourselves applying the 'lean' way of thinking and continue to make improvements."Cytology Manager NHS – Primary Care Trust Hospital
"A number of excellent pieces of work all delivered with professionalism and a good level of outside best practice knowledge shared and transferred. Good cross-functional connections made with the team at all levels and are very well respected and trusted in the organisation…"Market-leading provider of steam systems and services
"This Programme has revolutionised the way my team delivers its projects. It has enabled personal ownership and commitment from everyone involved. The teams are empowered to remove waste from their own processes and deliver real improvements in a matter of weeks, rather than months."Graeme Shaw | Business Process Improvement Leader Global Metro
"The Spitfire consultants were very knowledgeable and able to relate complicated techniques to us in language we understood. Their experience and expertise gave us a great leap in understanding."BT Manager Leading Energy Saving Group
"The real power of the programme is the empowerment and tangible cultural change it delivers in a short time scale. It releases momentum from every level and silo of the organisation, generating immediate impact and identification and eradication of waste. This is worthy of immediate wider application."Independent Investment Programme Advisory Group to the Mayor of London
"After many months of analysis, planning and effort we have, for the first time, achieved all of our Operational Performance Indicators for defects. This is a great achievement and has been delivered at the same time as working to drastically cut the number of outstanding defects, which have reduced from over 2,000 to about 150 today."Highways & Transport Manager Local authority (UK)
"An excellent piece of work delivered by knowledgeable and experienced logistics experts. Spitfire's packaging design concepts and Lean Logistics approach not only tackle space constraint issues, they also improve ergonomic handling and part quality. The designs ensure reduced handling of sub-assembled material & parts, and reduce costs."Plant Manager, Bremen Major Aircraft Manufacturer
"The turnaround of the fleet has been incredible! Spitfire Consultancy have been instrumental in making this happen. We now have the tools and the knowledge to maintain control and continue to meet our future performance challenges."Fleet Manager Asset Maintenance Company
"A great result, this supplier was one of our biggest concerns in terms of parts supply for the new model and now we're getting parts ahead of the model launch, a very positive outcome, well done…."Quality Director Leading Prestigious Car Manufacturer
"Spitfire have delivered a strategy that is clear and follows all Lean principles to ensure parts are available when required, all without impacting on production. Stakeholders involved have been impressed by Spitfire's knowledge and approach."Head of Supply Chain Logistics Major Aircraft OEM
"During development of the project, we recognised the immediate potential and in a joint activity with the original project team, installed the Body Shop Training Centre into a brand new manufacturing plant being built in the U.S.A. to assist us with the very difficult task of new plant hire and skill-up."Global Lean Centre Manager Global Vehicle Manufacturer
"A stellar performance from a rotating team of consultants achieved all I could have hoped for. A great programme which should be wider applied in my organisation."Head of Delivery Global Metro