Limited Engagements: Exploring Ideas and Practices That Lie between Fields Such as Planning and Theater, Organizational Change and Campaigns, Traditional and Corporate Universities, and Other Managerial Intersections. (on the Boundary)

Article excerpt

Last summer, industry leaders and management theorists gathered in Toronto for three days of intense debate. Their topic: Why do organizations stumble in adapting to change? A noted thinker announced the group's conclusion: People resist change because it makes them anxious.

Campus leaders and planners take heed. Voluminous analyses and sweeping recommendations may induce paralysis. The unknown--in the form of a thick plan--is too frightening to look at. Thus, the familiar paradox: Constituents lobby for change even as they shun it. Students complain. Department chairs battle for dollars. Star professors plump for expanded privileges. Everyone clamors for less bureaucracy. Scrap the entire system and start over? Impossible. Even if you could, few volunteers would be willing to help with the task. The prospect is too unnerving.

So, you launch a strategic review. Ensuing plans produce a few modest improvements. Meanwhile, stakeholders press for speedy change. Gridlock intensifies.

Action vs. Analysis Paralysis

Step back and consider the traditional planning model. It boils down to three steps: analyze, plan, implement ... or, think, think some more, then act.

As implementation approaches, anxiety is running so high that most of your energy is devoted to managing resistance. Every flaw in a plan has been revealed. Education professionals love to think--and excel at critical thinking. It's second nature to focus on shortcomings.

Fortunately, you have an alternative. By directing a "limited engagement," you inspire people to act while they plan.

"Change" is drafted, rehearsed, and performed, like a dramatic production. The "actors" improvise, learning and rewriting their lines as they experience new roles. The pace is swift and exciting.

"Line -- Action -- Line" captures the spirit of a limited engagement. A line is spoken, an actor responds with an action, another line is spoken, a scene emerges, then another ... the drama takes shape. Then it's over. The result: a "civilizing arena where people find a common ground," in the words of playwright David Ives.

A "change director" makes new structures vivid and tangible. …