Tending the Fires of 21st Century Organizations

Tending the Fires of 21st Century Organizations

When initiating a new program – or establishing an entirely new organization—we typically attend to the positive outcomes that we envision for this program or organization: a new accounting procedure will cut down on paperwork by twenty percent, a new health care organization that focuses on streamlined patient intake procedure will significantly increase both staff and patient satisfaction. While these outcomes might realistically be expected of a successful effort over a relatively long period of time, we must recognize that sufficient resources are needed to sustain the program or organization over a longer period of time. The start-up log will eventually burn out.

At the start of any new program or organization, there typically is some sense that the current situation can be improved. It is better to try something new than to accept the current circumstances as givens. Thus, the impetus for creation of a new program or organization is persuasive and enduring. We look forward to the warm fire and are excited to embark upon a new journey. While there is energy and often resources (money, work) associated with the startup, there are also several important barriers. First, things are disrupted. An unfreezing process is essential to any planned startup. At the individual level, we can speak of the transitional periods or psychic limbo states that intercede between more stable periods in the lives of adults (Mura and Bergquist, 2020).  During each transitional period, some fundamental assumptions are questioned—and the existing life structure is reappraised. Previously dismissed options and possibilities for change in oneself and in one’s world are now given credence. For the first time, we hear voices from other rooms in our psychic structure and consider profound changes in the way we engage our world. There are lingering doubts or at least worries even when we are true believers in the new initiative.

Whether engaged in organizational unfreezing or personal transitions, people are forced to adjust and learn when first initiating the new program or organization. This is often a painful and consuming process. Participants in the change understandably begin to focus more on their own coping and their own learning, than they do on the task at hand. They become introspective. Old memories, hopes and fears often are evoked as people being changed seek out the stability of the past amidst the new values and behaviors. The old boundaries between home and work often are broken, as are many interpersonal constraints and traditional role differences (teacher and learner, young and old, male and female). Many startups will open up new perspectives that seem on the surface to have little to do specifically with this program or organization. Change processes and learning often are not very discriminating. The fire burns without fully predictable patterns or outcomes. It doesn’t behave itself—nor do new programs or organizations. That is what makes all of the entities and processes so enthralling (and potentially hazardous).

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About the Author

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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