A young municipality with about 200,000 inhabitants had a change agenda on which they made good progress in the beginning. However, some of the more tough and sticky issues remained unresolved. This was problematic, as these were at the core of the development, namely: working in close connection with the city and its inhabitants, creating a more flexible organisation and investing in mutual cooperation. Management wanted to get moving on these major themes and was therefore looking for an approach that could help the organisation break through the existing patterns.
We decided to put together a change team for each assignment, consisting of employees who had a strong affinity with the subject in question but who did not necessarily have to deal with it themselves in their work. This allowed them to adopt the assignment with the drive to really move it forward and at the same time to look at it with some professional distance.
The first step for the teams was to make a robust diagnosis. We supported them to discuss the obstacles and tenacities that still prevented the organisation from working in the desired way, in an inquiring manner. Together with management, committed colleagues and external stakeholders they went in search of hidden logics and unwritten rules. By providing insight into sticky patterns in a non-judgmental way, for example by drawing causal diagrams showing how certain behaviours from different groups interact and one thing leads to another, clear language and images were created. The diagnosis was always about observations (how are things going), not about opinions or judgements (how should they be going). And that made it possible to discuss these patterns more freely. With the intent to understand and then look for levers for change: how can we focus our energy to achieve as much of a breakthrough as possible - with as little effort as possible? Should we organise our work in a different way? Or should we change our conversations? What skills (knowledge, skill, attitude) are needed to get started effectively?
Based on these questions, each team designed a concrete change plan. They presented this to the board of directors and a number of 'critical friends'. Not so much to ask for permission - but to create commitment and sharpen the plans together.
After this, 'levers' were designed and tested for each of the three change topics. These affected both the hard and the soft side of the organisation. After all, working with the city in new and different ways, organising more flexibly and cooperating better requires innovation in various areas: systems, culture, talents and abilities, new working methods, relations with stakeholders, etc. These levers have been translated into a coherent set of actions and interventions in a concrete plan.
The development of the organisation is not yet 'finished', and the project is still ongoing. But there's been a lot of movement. All those involved are much stronger and more clearly committed to the innovation. Also, the pressure points that are needed to achieve real breakthroughs are more clear, enabling people to work in a more focused and targeted way. Moreover, the approach has strengthened the organisation's capacity for change. People, certainly for the ones who were involved in the change teams, have more 'language' to speak about change, and they have tools and experience for analysing patterns and choosing appropriate interventions. This provides an important basis for the next steps.