Organizational Healing LO6570:
Wed, 10 Apr 1996 10:54:45 -0400

Replying to LO6530 -- was: Intro -- Kathy Burnett


In a message dated 96-04-10 01:32:56 EDT, you write:
>What would organizational healing be? How would it work? What would need
>to occur? I think we're looking at this concept in relation to not only
>dysfunctional organizational processes, but also what is needed following
>down-sizing or other organizational restructuring programs

Good questions, Kathy. I've found great interest in this question in the
South Bay OD Network, where we recently discussed the "Jobless Society."
I hope others will take up the thread. I am especially interested in
hearing how it is possible to create a learning organization when there is
so much turnover and uncertainty in the way many companies are surviving
right now.

William Bridges' work on both individual and organizational transition may
be helpful to you. His first book is called "Transitions: Making Sense of
Life's Changes." In it, he outlines a three-phase model of how people
experience change. Change is the external "reality" while transition is
the inner response, the attempt to deal with change. He refers to the
first phase Endings, since change signals the end of something familiar.
Something important is lost. This is often a very painful process, but
not usually acknowledged in individual or organizational change. He makes
a parallel with the grieving process as described by Elizabeth

As grieving subsides, there is a period of confusion and uncertainty as we
realize we have lost our old identity, way of life, status, structure,
resources or whatever it may be. But we have not yet invented a
replacement. Bridges calls it the Neutral Zone. This can be very
difficult if we don't recognize our confusion for what it is. We may try
to tell ourselves to Just Get Going! yet our reaction is to sleep a lot,
or do crazy things, or jump from one possibility to another. It is also a
creative time, if explored and used wisely. Out of it can come the new
identity that shifts us into the final phase, New Beginnings.

The phases are not distinct "stages," and we can be in several transitions
at once. When they pile up without a chance for us to make sense of them,
we can be said to be in a "transition deficit." The continual change and
uncertainty in organizations can easily create such a deficit as people
deal with new technologies, reengineered organizations, the latest
management fad, downsizing, rapid growth, relocation or any of the other
challenges of contemporary organizational life.

Bridges has now written a couple of books on organizational transition,
building on his initial model and his work as a consultant in
corporations. One is called Surviving Corporate Transition;another I
believe is Managing Transitions. He is also the author of a very helpful
book called Jobshift. It describes the way the work world is changing,
toward a more contingent workforce, and suggests ways for individuals to
succeed in this new environment.

I recently attended a certification seminar on Managing Organizational
Transitions, and found his approach both sensitive and helpful. When a
change happens, people lose their commitments, communication networks,
their feelings of competence. Their life plans and day-to-day patterns
may be disrupted. Bridges says we need rituals to acknowledge losses. We
need to talk about changes and their effects on us. He says managers need
to listen to employees lower in the hierarchy who usually have not had the
same opportunity to prepare for change as those higher up. Rituals or
ceremonies can mark the end of a period in life or work. Bridges also
suggests that leaders encourage people to bring some small token or symbol
forward from the past so they do not feel they have lost everything they

A problem is that in organizations, people often want to avoid talking
about the losses. They say things like, "We need to look to the future!
We need to remain positive! Talking about all that will just depress
people!" The problem is, they are already depressed, which is why
productivity often drops dramatically during periods of change. They are
standing around the water cooler trying to make sense of it, or staying
home in bed to avoid dealing with it. Sometimes they are sabotaging it.
Others on this list can probably provide lots of examples.

Bridges offers suggestions for helping people through the Neutral Zone as
well. Support them, let them know what's happening, give them
opportunities to learn new skills, etc. New Beginnings are more or less a
time to get out of the way! Lots of positive energy is released. People
begin to develop the creative ideas they have hatched in the Neutral Zone,
and find support in new patterns of interaction that have developed as
people go through a transition together.

I wish you well and look forward to hearing about the results of your
group's inquiry.

Joanne Gainen
MTD & Associates
Santa Clara, CA


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