As I began to observe organizational change in real time, I found many surprises. For example, I realized that something needs to happen for people to have different, more productive conversations, to be able to get past the barriers of “you’re in this role and I’m in this role, and I can’t say what I think,” and open up that path of communication to create new relational dynamics. Another surprise was seeing people take the network measure of relational coordination that I had invented as a research tool and use it instead as a mirror to provide feedback and to notice “Oh, look, this isn’t good communication between us and this other group. We thought it was, but it wasn’t.” It was as if they were using the measure as a boundary object, observing together what was going on, then giving themselves and each other permission to communicate and relate in different ways.
The cases presented in this book demonstrate the Relational Model of Organizational Change in action; they show that transformed relationships are at the heart of sustainable positive change. This model took shape in early 2011, when Ed Schein invited Amy Edmondson and me to regular meetings in his living room overlooking the Charles River and the Boston Museum of Science. Over the course of several months, he demonstrated what it means to create a relational space—a space in which it is safe to admit what you don’t know and to learn from others—not so easily accomplished among academics, who tend to have a fair amount of ego! My major insight from these conversations was that organizational change does not start with the adoption of new structures, as my previous work had argued. Rather, it starts with participants changing their patterns of relationships just as they change the way they do the work. Structures cannot be overlooked—indeed, they are essential for supporting and sustaining those new patterns. But by themselves they cannot create those new patterns. Sustainable change is likely to require relational and work process interventions, accompanied by structural interventions. These conversations prompted me to observe change agents in action and helped me to notice new things.
In this book, you will meet change agents—such as Tony Suchman, Marjorie Godfrey, Curt Lindberg, Carsten Hornstrup, Diane Rawlins, Kim DeMacedo, and their colleagues and clients—who turned the Relational Model of Organizational Change into a living, breathing reality. You will see how theory meets reality and helps to transform it, and vice versa: how reality meets theory and helps to transform it. Our journey takes place amid tremendous performance pressures we are facing in our world today—pressures that require a relational response.