The Organizational Lag: Leading Your Team Through Change is a wonderful, short piece by John Vars.
In it, John captures a behavioral pattern that I’ve seen multiple times in various organizations, the challenge to get buy-in and drive change, and identifies an important root cause for it, as well as path for addressing (some) of it.
It can be simply illustrated in this image:
Or in this one sound-bite from his piece:
The big lesson for me was this: there is always an organizational lag. By this I mean that management often gets access to information ahead of the rank-and-file employees. Therefore, managers are able to process and get comfortable with the information before sharing with the greater team. The team, naturally quite nervous with a major change, now has to catch up to the managers who are bombarding them with action items. This is the lag. The lag is when managers are ready to start acting and the team is asking WTF. The lag is when managers experience increasing optimism and the team experiences increasing anxiety. The lag always exists and you can’t avoid it. What you can do is shrink the lag time.
Take 5 mins, read his piece. It’s well worth it.
This notion of a “lag” and the visual oscillating pattern immediately drew a connection in my mind between the phenomena that John is describing here and Donella Meadows’ “systems thinking” work (get a taste of it here). What’s particularly interesting here, is that it’s the human interactions that create the system pattern/behavior. If we were talking about machines, one reaching a decision, and then instructing the other to do something, we would not have the same system behavior. There will not be “WTF” moments, there will not be anxiety. I’m probably going to spend some more time reflecting on the interplay between “systems thinking” and “human behavior”. Lots to uncover there.