Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Role of the Sceptic

@ceciledemailly asks the @ocpractitioner group for practical tips to address the initial resistance of a key/instrumental stakeholder within an executive committee.

Here's how this looks when viewed through a group dynamics lens.

The group requires at least one member to express sceptical ideas, which Cécile is labelling as resistance. If such a person is sidelined or excluded, then others will emerge from the group to take on the sceptic role. On the other hand, if the sceptics are encouraged to work through their doubts, and are trusted by the rest of the group to perform this function, this allows everyone else to get on with the work. In Belbin's Team Inventory, this role is known as the Monitor/Evaluator.

Having been on the receiving end of a lot of change initiatives that weren't thought through properly, my sympathies are generally with the sceptic.

A lot of change initiatives get snarled up in the transition from "vision" to "content". Sometimes executives are attracted to grand visions and assume that the implementation details will sort themselves out somehow. We have seen the same thing happening with large public sector IT projects, where politicians have repeatedly been seduced into spending vast sums on initiatives where nearly all the experts (with the exception of those hoping to gain financially from the project) advise that it won't work.

Cécile says that "the vision is quite clear". But clear visions are usually simple: reality is complex. This is why a clear vision, while essential for gaining a degree of consensus and enthusiasm from most of the group, can sometimes be unrealistic. Monitor / evaluators tend to be unpersuaded by simple visions, and prefer to work through the practical details before buying into a scheme. If they are given space and time to do this, the scheme will be much more robust and likely to succeed.

By the way, many Christians misunderstand the vital role of Saint Thomas in the New Testament, and I've heard him spoken of with some disrespect. But he was the one who didn't accept mere rumours of the resurrection of Jesus, but wanted to test this with the evidence of his own senses, and therefore becomes the most valuable witness for the gospel story. Jesus may have said "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed", but of course that doesn't imply (as some commentators seem to imagine) that those who are initially sceptical are any less blessed.

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