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Organizational Change as Collaborative Play - Book Review

1 May 2021
Dr. Moria Levy

 In 2018, Jaap Boonstra, a Dutch lecturer and researcher at multiple European universities, published "Organizational Change as Collaborative Play: A Positive View on Change and Innovations in Organizations." In this book, Boonstra introduces the concept of perceiving organizational change as a positive experiential process, which he terms "play."


 The book follows a comprehensive structure, encompassing sections on the game concept, stakeholders, goals of change (game ambition), diagnosing organizational dynamics and problems, devising change strategies, and managing the change process.


 Boonstra's notion of presenting change as a positive experience is intriguing, as it brings dual benefits: a positive experience during the change process and positive outcomes that benefit all involved. This approach makes the reading experience engaging and thought-provoking.

 

Game Concept

The Game Concept revolves around adopting the game metaphor to facilitate and drive changes, anchored in several core principles:

  1. Collaborative players engage together, fostering cooperation and teamwork.

  2. They adhere to defined rules and regulations, promoting structure and order.

  3. Enjoyment is critical, making the change process engaging and motivating.

  4. Creativity is encouraged throughout the process, allowing for innovative solutions and approaches.


By embracing the game metaphor, organizations can effectively navigate various change environments, which include:

  • Transparent gaming environment: Events are clear, and reality is predictable, enabling straightforward decision-making.

  • Complex game environment: Known factors exist, but the challenges are difficult to manage, requiring careful analysis and adaptation.

  • Dynamic game environment: Constantly changing reality and development, where adaptability and flexibility are paramount.

  • Chaotic game environment: A realm of unknowns, characterized by rapid and substantial changes, necessitating quick thinking and responsiveness.


 In contrast to traditional solutions that often struggle in non-transparent environments, the game metaphor empowers organizations to break free from existing patterns and embrace novelty. Agile and experiential approaches balance stability and progressive movement, efficiently managing uncertainty in pursuing change. This approach fosters a positive and dynamic atmosphere conducive to successful organizational transformation.

 

Players

Various stakeholders play crucial roles throughout the change process, comprising both external and internal actors. External players include customers, citizens, competitors, suppliers, shareholders, colleagues, consultants, and more. Internal actors encompass management, managers, staff, policymakers, service personnel, employees, etc.


Key points to consider:

  • Change management necessitates collaborative teamwork, with all stakeholders working together towards a common goal.

  • Each actor brings distinct perspectives, interests, and agendas, requiring careful consideration and understanding.

  • Identifying the primary stakeholders related to the situation's problems and understanding the changing context is paramount. Gaining insights into their roles, priorities, emotions, and values is vital for effective decision-making.

  • Paying attention to prominent players and those who influence the organization is essential to ensure comprehensive stakeholder engagement.

  • A beneficial approach is to allow for fragmentation, enabling the accommodation of diverse viewpoints without imposing consensus. By acknowledging shared recognition of problems, stakeholders can effectively cope with the challenges of the change process. This inclusive approach encourages openness and fosters a collaborative environment, enhancing the chances of successful organizational transformation.

 

Ambition for the Game

The ambition that drives the game and defines its goals can be explored from four complementary perspectives:

  • Aspirations: This entails determining the purpose and meaning of the game and clarifying where we aim to be.

  • Achievements: Here, we focus on added values and capabilities that we take pride in and our desired image.

  • Identity: This perspective involves understanding our shared values, perceptions, standards, and intentions that represent who we are as an organization.

  • Strategies: This aspect encompasses the business, marketing, differentiation, innovation, collaboration, creativity, spending, and quality strategies we plan to employ to achieve our goals.


Fostering a shared ambition among all stakeholders can effectively unite their diverse interests.


The process includes the following steps:

  • Exposure: We must gain a deep understanding of the gap between the current situation and the desired change. By doing so, we can develop various possibilities for the future.

  • Joint Negotiations: Engaging in constructive dialogues enables us to explore potential future scenarios collaboratively.

  • Decision-making: Deciding on the shared future is a collective effort where all stakeholders contribute their perspectives and insights.


Highlights:

  • Creating a compelling vision of the future and fostering a sense of togetherness instills confidence in achieving our shared goals.

  • Balancing the discomfort present in the current situation with a commitment to core values fuels innovation and resilience during the change process.

  • Striking the proper equilibrium between ambitious aspirations and actionable steps is essential for steady progress.

  • Changes driven by external pressure may lack clear guidance, making it crucial to communicate a clear and vivid picture of the envisioned future to the entire organization. This clarity will help the organization navigate the challenges posed by external forces effectively.

 

Organizational Dynamics

Organizational dynamics, also called game dynamics, involves understanding an organization, its needs, and challenges to determine the most suitable actions and strategies. The significance of this diagnostic process lies in avoiding biased solutions, as needs and problems may lack precision.


The diagnostic process includes the following steps:

  1. Conduct an in-depth study of the organizational environment, encompassing various components such as sites, reports, surveys, interviews, and observations.

  2. Gaining comprehensive knowledge of the organization's functioning along two critical axes: action patterns, vision, strategy, organizational structure, responsibility, capabilities, and expertise. The context incorporates technical, political, cultural, and innovative aspects.

  3. Understanding the changes occurring within the organization, including identifying prosperous and less successful aspects, assessing flexibility, and determining the scope for autonomy amid control and stability.


  4. Analyzing needs based on the factors mentioned above.


Highlights:

  • Integrating players into the diagnostic process from the outset initiates the momentum for change. By involving all stakeholders, the organization ensures that the change process is inclusive and that their insights contribute to meaningful outcomes.

  • The use of visual illustrations effectively engages participants and enhances their involvement in the process. Visual aids help convey complex information in a more accessible manner.

  • Avoiding the use of diagnoses solely based on rational models is vital. Instead, the organization should encourage courage and collaboration by fostering closer relationships between evaluators and stakeholders before initiating any perceived judgmental process.

  • Presenting diagnostic findings at a higher level initially, and delving into specifics only after participants are engaged, ensures that they clearly understand the overarching context before delving into finer details.

  • Providing a thorough and accurate description of the organization's dynamics reduces room for discussion and disagreement among partners. A shared understanding of the situation lays a strong foundation for effective decision-making and action.


  • Emphasizing the main patterns during the diagnosis helps identify critical areas of focus and prioritize actions that will significantly impact the organization's development.

  • Allowing room for discussion in dynamics aimed at problem-solving enables stakeholders to express their perspectives and collaborate in finding effective solutions. On the other hand, visual aids aid comprehension in innovation-related dynamics, where creativity and novel approaches are vital.

  • Drawing insights from both the current organizational state and past experiences and insights enrich the organization's understanding of its strengths, weaknesses, and potential opportunities for improvement. By learning from the past, the organization can make more informed decisions and develop effective strategies for the future.

 

 

Game Strategy

Formulating a strategy for implementing change involves several crucial components:

  1. Analyzing the change's content, purpose, value, significance, and essence.

  2. Conducting a process analysis that considers the strategy's present, future, and transitional stages.

  3. Performing a human analysis to understand the ambition, actors, experiences, and their impact on the change process.


Organizations seeking to implement change can adopt various strategies, including:

  • Strength-based change

  • Rational persuasion-based change

  • Negotiation-based change between partners

  • Motivation-based change of partners

  • Learning-based change

  • Dialogue-based change


 While each strategy proves effective under different conditions, it is evident that Boonstra predominantly advocates for a dialogue-based strategy. This approach emphasizes open and transparent communication, encouraging stakeholders to engage in discussions about the organization, change, innovation, and all relevant aspects to foster success. The strategy involves shared disclosure, interactivity, future orientation, vision sharing, and continuous learning through a cyclical dialogue process. Intelligent combinations of different strategies can also be applied for optimal results.


Additional considerations related to change include:

  • Defining the limits of change - determining which aspects will be affected and to what extent.

  • Determining the magnitude and depth of change - distinguishing between improvements, operational changes, environmental changes, strategic behaviors, capabilities, quality, norms, values, and core elements.

  • Assessing the scalability of change - ensuring that the chosen approach can be adapted and applied to various contexts.

  • Developing coping mechanisms and conflict management strategies to handle challenges that may arise during the change process.


In making these decisions, it is crucial to prioritize achieving maximum leverage with minimum effort to ensure efficiency and effectiveness.


Managing the change process includes the following key elements:

  1. Prioritizing starting points for change: Carefully consider whether the organization will be motivated by external pressures, such as crises or policies, intrinsic factors like improving service quality and professionalism, or opportunities for future preparation and innovation.

  2. Setting up and grouping co-players: Paying attention to entrepreneurs, main stakeholders, and latecomers while effectively managing resistance and activating and supporting each partner in their respective roles (a detailed table on page 155 outlines these roles).

  3. Formulating a detailed change strategy: Building upon the starting point, diagnosis, and strategic principles outlined in the previous chapter to create a comprehensive plan.

  4. Communication throughout the process: Utilizing various communication techniques, such as persuasion, pushing, negotiations, seduction, interaction, and logical explanations, to convey the change to all stakeholders effectively.

  5. Monitoring progress: Continuously track and evaluate the progress made during the change process to ensure alignment with the desired outcomes.

  6. Decision-making based on changes and progress: Addressing tensions, objections, and results observed along the way to adapt the strategy and ensure successful implementation.

  7. Measuring the impact: The book offers metrics on page 195, covering various aspects, to assess the overall effect of the change initiative.


 By effectively managing the change process and implementing a well-thought-out strategy, organizations can navigate the complexities of change and achieve their desired outcomes.

 

Process highlights

  • Tailor language and narrative to the target audience: Strive for deep identification rather than relying solely on acquired knowledge.

  • Establish a common understanding at the starting point: Create a channel and foster a shared sense of the purpose behind the change.

  • Integrate organizational stories into communication: Utilize authentic and captivating stories in each change chapter to enhance engagement; success stories prove particularly effective.

  • Engage in mature decision-making: Listen to the context and situation to select the best-tailored strategy for each target audience.

  • Strike a balance between top-down leadership and bottom-up initiation: Manage the change process delicately, leveraging both approaches.

  • Address and mitigate risks and uncertainty continuously: Proactively manage potential challenges.

  • Employ visual aids for better understanding and engagement: Utilize visible reflections to enhance communication.

  • Promote open and less formal decision-making: Cultivate an environment of openness and reduced formality to facilitate constructive discussions.

  • Foster meaning and trust-building: Focus on creating meaningful connections for stakeholders and building trust in the change process.


Summary

Successful change entails collaborative efforts, meaningful impact, contextual awareness, and trust-building. Organizations can achieve a transformative and impactful outcome by executing a well-managed change process.


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