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Article  |  30 August 2023

Change us – and stay away from us

The double binds within change assignments

Quartermasters, program managers, interim managers are given 1 visible assignment: change us. But the question often also carries 1 invisible assignment: keep your hands off us. How is that possible? And how do you make room for change as an organization?

We call a situation like this a double bind. A catch 22: it goes wrong if you do it and it goes wrong if you don’t. Many change assignments contain a double bind. It is openly intended that you succeed as a quartermaster or program manager, but if you succeed it means that another part of the system has failed. Or it is the intention that something changes, but that means that it will never be the same again. And that is the hidden brake.

Realizing this when you take the job will help you anticipate what you will encounter. Then you can name the double bind and make it negotiable. And with that, perhaps look for the space that will be needed in your contract.

There is no easy way out of a double bind. Consider these betting options:
1) Inflate the pattern. In fact, an explosion of the system, where the existing structure within the team, the board, the organization is wiped out. And thus make room for a new construction. There are no (old) certainties anymore.
2) Digging your own grave. More like a deliberate implosion of the system, where the existing construction remains and each party within it is asked to sacrifice his or her expectations, take the loss and build a new construction side by side.
3) Turn frustration into love. Sometimes you can’t do anything else. If you can’t blow up and implode the pattern, what remains is a kind of marriage where you don’t give up on yourself but embrace the differences and interests of the parts.

Change only comes when the system gives room for it. And that starts as a quartermaster, program or interim manager with a good conversation with your client…

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