Some colleagues were discussing how fear, distrust and politics are the biggest barriers to organizational change. I wish I could be more hopeful about eradicating them or eliminating their causes, but I have started to see it differently.
Instead, now I treat these things as "gravitational constants" in any organization that need to be managed, mitigated and ultimately minimized. Because they are naturally occurring in social interactions, people should be able to reflect on whether or not they are productive without feeling additional guilt or anger. That’s critical.
This is the lesson of emotional intelligence. Rather than prohibiting or denying that emotion exists in the workplace—which always means only one ego is allowed—EQ is about appreciating, respecting and above all using emotions productively. They have evolved in human societies because they help people to survive in one way or another. Fear, resentment, envy and greed are emotional states (which sometimes are even extremely useful precognitive relevance filters). Loyalty, enjoyment, optimism, curiosity, and competitive spirit are emotional states too, all of which are prerequisites for individual and team learning, innovation and performance.
Organizational cultures evolve slowly and continuously. I think fear of change is an immune reaction to that which is foreign to the body politic. So either we introduce change slowly, which or anticipate a massive reaction and find ways to channel the response productively. Simply unplugging the immune system is dangerous, leaving the organization vulnerable to other novelties which might not be so healthy—such as creative accounting or subprime mortgages.
I think we need a very different approach to trust, too. No matter how carefully trust is built or how cleverly it is maintained, even best-intentioned team member or leader will break trust now and then: we miss a deadline, make the wrong decision or lose temper. It’s vital to have mechanisms to repair trust with apologies and forgiveness. The value of this has been demonstrated at Harvard by Amy Edmondson’s research into communications among high-performing teams of doctors and nurses.
And politics also has a place; at its best, it is ultimately the only way to negotiate—if in good faith—over the allocation of scarce resources and making sure that multiple stakeholders and perspectives are considered.