I have recently been asked to design a course for change agents on expanding their toolkits for facilitating organisational change. I’m a bit wary when I receive requests for tools. I get concerned that people are looking for a quick fix when we all know that organisations are incredibly complex and organisational change is very unpredictable. However, I am always interested in developing my own ‘toolkit’ so I guess others are too.
The idea of facilitating a workshop started me thinking about what tools I use regularly in my own practice as a change agent. I quickly began to realise that most of the time I devise tools to fit the circumstances – but that’s not very helpful to people who are looking for practical ideas. However, there are some ‘tried and tested’ tools (or are they techniques?) that I use regularly such as organisational timelines, rich pictures (from Soft Systems Methodology), force field analysis, disaster charting, SWOT analysis, problem trees, portfolio analysis, talking walls, card sort prioritisation, life-cycle assessment, organisational mapping, ‘goldfish bowl’ discussions, and occasionally role play and sculpting.
Why these? Well, firstly I feel confident using them and I think its really important that using a tool shouldn’t be a source of anxiety for the change agent who introduces it – we have enough to be concerned about! Secondly, the tools have a real purpose and are not simply entertaining gimmicks. I’m not against entertainment or fun in organisational change but I’d rather pause the process and introduce an energiser than use an exercise that has little point. Some of the techniques (or maybe they are methods) that I use most are interviews, group discussions and questionnaires. With these, what matters most is choosing questions carefully and being able to facilitate in-depth (and sometimes sensitive) dialogue and discussion. In my work on organisational learning I sometimes use a tool I devised a few years ago called the ‘Learning NGO Questionnaire’ but more often I devise customised questionnaires after some in-depth discussions with people in the organisation. In organisational change, one size definitely does not fit all.
So where does that leave the idea of the toolkit workshop? I think it could be a really good opportunity for participants to share their own favourites by illustrating how and when they have used the tools. Maybe the real focus of the workshop will turn out to be the criteria we use for selecting (or devising) the right tool for the circumstances. Since this is something we do more and more intuitively as we become more experienced, it will be a challenging issue to examine. But no matter how experienced we think we are as change agents, its always a good idea to re-examine our practice. A workshop on tools could end up being more challenging than it first seems!