Dissonance Precedes Resolution


In the timeless play, "Fiddler on the Roof," Tevye comments about his daughter and son-in-law in Siberia, "They're so happy, they don't know how miserable they are." Many organizations are not sufficiently self-aware to realize the problems they have. More commonly, though, there are individuals in the organization who are aware of the shortcomings in the organization. They may or may not know exactly what the problems are, but they do know that something is wrong. But unless enough key people in the organization acknowledge the organization's problems, things are unlikely to change.

In some cases, such as ParcPlace, the problems are already apparent. But other organizations need prodding to face up to their problems. The TeamBuilding exercises help people come face to face with their problems. In effect, the TeamBuilding exercises create a crisis in the organization. The dissonance of a crisis is often a prerequisite for large scale cultural change. In Virginia Satir's model of organizational change, such a stimulus is called a foreign element [BibRef-Satir1991]. It takes a foreign element to get an organization off of top dead-center.

One organization we studied was mired in cumbersome processes and overly focused on management. It was clear that most of the troops chafed under their development processes, but the manager roles did not see the problem. The team building exercise made the managers see things as the developers saw them; it removed a blindness to a reality they couldn't see. This resulted in serious introspection among the managers. It wasn't clear whether they changed their organization, but it did provide a golden opportunity to do so.

While we don't advocate looking for trouble, dissonances that present themselves may lead to opportunities for improvement. Dissonances that are vague, such as feelings that something somewhere isn't right, invite introspection exercises to help sharpen the focus of pattern application.