3 change tools unleashed

by | Feb 2, 2011 | Blog | 2 comments

Looking for some effective change management tools to build rapport, understanding, and acceptance?

Try these three tactics from not so usual suspects. They’re tested, easy to use, and relatively inexpensive.

1. Mix up the seating. For example, Members of Congress mixed up their seating assignments at the State of the Union address late last month. Rather than keep the parties on different sides of the aisle, they co-mingled. Some traditionalists were horrified that Congress was losing a form of checks and balances, but others said the blending promoted a more well-mannered audience.

A change in perspective also can lead to a change in perceptions, a wise person once told me. (I’ve forgotten who it was, but I don’t want to take credit for somebody else’s sage advice.)

In business meetings, you can do a couple of things to mix things up. One, encourage individuals to choose a different spot to sit each time. Two, create seating charts that contribute to diversity and assign seating. (A caution: Don’t make this so complex that you overlook the obvious. A client of mine used a software program to take into account multiple variables: gender, office location, department, title, length of service, etc. But he neglected one conspicuous marker: hair color. So he got lots of ribbing from everyone when one table was comprised of all blondes. Not surprisingly, the meeting featured lots of dumb blonde jokes.)

2. Debate controversial topics from opposite viewpoints. Several years ago when I worked with the board of directors of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, we used this technique. To vet all sides of the issues, we asked board members to debate before the formal meetings—with a twist. The debaters had to defend their opposing position. For instance, those in favor of parental notification for abortion had to debate against it and vice versa. This kept everybody on their toes and brought out nuances that we might not have thought about. As a result, the discussion before and during the meetings was more robust and the board made more informed decisions.

3. Try open houses instead of town hall meetings. Park officials of The Golden Gate National Recreational Area recently announced they will sponsor informational open houses where they will provide more information, answer questions, and listen to people’s comments about a controversial plan to restrict off-leash pet access in the parks. As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, park officials fear “open dialogue would provoke a fur-flying donnybrook” similar to what happened almost 10 years ago when they held public hearings.   

As a lover of dogs and dialogue, I’m not thrilled about this approach. And I’ve not tried it in other situations. However, I do recognize that this tactic may be an effective way to exchange information and opinions without elevating blood pressure. And it can be more inclusive than one-time town hall meetings or public hearings in that more people can participate over a longer time period. (In this situation, the park officials are holding a number of open houses in various locations as well as taking comments through an online forum and snail mail letters.)

These change management practices from the world of government and non-profits may help you unleash your discussions. The more comprehensive conversations will encourage people to gain greater focus, familiarity, and clarity around the issues and help everyone stay on the path to change.

What nonstandard change tools do you like to use?


  1. Kathie Martin

    CalTrans has used the open house approach a number of times in our jurisdiction in recent years, gathering input on some major (MAJOR!) projects. My first reaction was negative. That seemed like a somewhat sneaky approach, so I was surprised when they actually worked pretty well. The vocal minority wasn’t able to monopolize the whole meeting, but did receive significant one-on-one time with members of the project team who were able to address their concerns. They had multiple sets of plans displayed around the room with team members available at each to talk to individuals or small groups.

  2. Liz Guthridge

    Very interesting, Kathie! Great to know how the open house approach works in practice.

    By the way, since I wrote this post, I heard that California Governor Jerry Brown has benches rather than chairs around his meeting table. For him, it’s a simple way to keep meetings short. Not your typical change tactic, but a possible meeting effectiveness tool.

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