Monday, June 22, 2009

Yes we can, but very slowly (and not always)

A modern British LED Traffic Light (Siemens He...Image via Wikipedia

In a newspaper magazine I read about volunteers who go to work in Uganda in "alsof je de trein naar Zandvoort neemt". I agree with the conclusion drawn in the very realistic and recognisable article: see volunteering in countries like Uganda as an investment in yourself, and don't expect to change anything in 1,2 or even 6 months. There was a great example:
Two Dutch teachers: we were going to form couples with the Ugandan teachers to guide the children. However, we noted that these teachers were already a bit tired of volunteers because they try to change everything. Someone introduced a method from Dalton, with a traffic light system. Red means by quiet, Orange- you can ask questions and Green - you can talk freely. Whenever we entered, they would quickly put up the traffic light, but they would never use it.
This sounds like a very real situation. What can we learn from it in terms of change management?

1. You need to have a constructive helper relationship before you can facilitate change. People need to trust you and your interventions. There is imported trust (or mistrust) too. The Ugandan teachers were already tired of the volunteers. So for any volunteer it would be harder to build a relationship with the teachers in which they trust their interventions.

2. Change within a short time period will only work if it fits within the main system and respects the change rhythm of the people involved. The Dutch teachers frame of mind is too different from the Ugandan situation. Only small changes (single loop) changes are possible. Deeper change processes affecting the way we work take much more time.
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