What synchronised swimming can teach you about managing change

August 24, 2016Change behaviours

Synchronized_Swimming

When it’s about the whole and not the parts…

One of our favourite Olympic sports was the synchronised swimming events.  Teams take on an almost celestial embodiment as they perform elaborate, synchronised moves both in and out of the water, in perfect harmony.

According to the book ‘How to Watch the Olympics’,

synchronised swimming is a form of competitive dance.  It’s a marvel to watch as swimmers move in time with each other and the music, performing a variety of strokes, twists, turns and lifts, all whilst not touching the bottom of the three-metre-deep pool.

And while it appears to be all smiles and sequins, it is an incredibly tough sport -requiring fierce teamwork, fitness and discipline.  Australian team member for the Rio Olympics, Danielle Kettlewell, said the sport has taught her to “portray the grace of a ballet dancer while having the fight of a boxer and the trust in my teammates of an eight man rowing team.”

In our work as change practitioners, we immediately drew comparisons from this to what is required in transforming an organisation!

The perfect synchronised performance comes from thinking of the whole not the parts

When working with an organisation in the midst of transformation, aligning the ‘parts’ correctly becomes critical to the effective functioning or performance of the ‘whole’, much like synchronised swimming.

Also known as ‘systems’ thinking’. Quite simply, it means even as you confirm how change will affect individual people, teams, processes and systems and plan for that change, you must never lose sight of the organisation as a whole.  If change is occurring in one business area, it almost always follows that some other business areas will be affected (positively or negatively).  To be mature in your practice you need to consider the whole performance – the synchronised beat, the environment, the right moves, music and … keep the routine going!

How to ‘systems think’ for successful change…

Here are four essential elements to help your organisation consider the whole system to help make your transformation a success:

  1. Engage all stakeholders in the design of the shared vision.
    You can do this by using interactive planning to ensure that the entire organisation can belong to and commit to the change journey, rather then viewing change as something being ‘done to them’ or ‘forced’ upon them. There needs to be the right balance and type of engagement, and all the concerted effort below the water will show in the results above the water.
  2. Don’t lose coordination in the competition
    Stay focused, as you make progress whilst simultaneously establishing strong relationships, driving buy-in, turbo charging engagement and fostering trust and teaming. Supporting wierarchy change –unlocking the power and effectiveness of people working together through connection and collaboration from everywhere in the system.
  3. Be ready and willing to play the various roles of the change agent during the early set-up (game changer, disrupter, coach, consultant, and educator). Check to see what role is required and at what stage. And importantly, constantly assess ‘who you are being’ as well as ‘what you are doing’.
  4. Keep your eyes and ears open – there will be change concerns, all part of the normal human responses to change, so brace yourself and embrace the issues and challenges. Actively seek out areas of concern and strength through appreciative enquiry and deal into it all quickly. Successful change means ensuring that you don’t retreat from the tough moments. Allow staff to express their concerns and hopes and always remember that everyone wants to go for gold!

If your synchronised swim is less than graceful, are you considering the whole system or just focused on the individual parts?

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