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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Crossing the Divide #7--Operating Across Boundaries

Operating Across Boundaries: Leading Adaptive Change by Ronald Heifetz. Intergroup relationships occur everywhere in our history from one clan marrying into another, to mergers and acquisitions, to Congress operating. The complex relationships between groups (intergroup) and among groups (intragroup) create a level of complexity and nuance that is required for adaptation/survival in a new and ever changing world. Heifetz is a world-class mind at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government who has studied power, adaptation and survival. He notes that, like DNA that’s evolving, social adaptability works best when occurring gradually and constantly. Nonetheless, such change can create a sense of loss—and emotions of resistance that come with those emotions associated with loss. In this piece he discusses three aspects of adaptive work. 1) The commonality of loss. People can accept change, but not loss. Loss of power, status, influence and the like create an emotional wake too big to overcome. Thus, affected people put up decoys to avoid tackling the truly tough issues. And avoiding such tough issues often results in bigger eruptions down the road. 2) The politics of inclusion. Part of adaptive work is defining the problem and the inconsistencies presented and then identifying and bringing together the right parties to solve the problem. Ignoring critical social issues led to the Civil War…where we sidestepped addressing the economic issue of slavery only to turn around and pay an enormous price. 3) Refashioning loyalties across boundaries. Adaptive work requires convincing people to refashion their in-group loyalties to work across boundaries and forge coalitions. They must then, even after reaching intergroup decisions, sell their “new” position to their own constituents—which can be both difficult and treacherous. The author’s examples of the assassinations of Rabin, Sadat and Arafat were stunning cases of just how treacherous constituencies can be. Strategies among diverse interworking groups about how to introduce change to their various subgroup constituencies are often neglected and often fail.

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