Improv Tip of the Month: Change Reaction

Category : Improvisation November 6, 2012

This month’s Improv Tip is from Barry Edwards, Improv Contributor.

Think about a change you have experienced in an organization. Did you have to move work space from an office with a view to a cube in the middle of the office? Did a new CEO take the reins of the company? Was there a new policy that affected your day-to-day? Now think about the reactions you experienced. “I can’t believe I’m being downgraded from an office to a cube!” (denial). “The new CEO may fire us all!” (fear). “This new policy will make my job easier!” (acceptance).

Organizational change (big or small) happens when the people involved go through their own personal transitions. The Change Curve, a classic change model developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, describes four phases of reaction most people experience as they transition though a change:

Phase 1 – Shock and Denial – As a change is introduced into an organization, an employee may react with shock and denial due to a challenge to the status quo.

Phase 2 – Anger and Fear – Once the reality of change sinks in, the employee may resist by reacting with anger and fear.

Phase 3 – Acceptance – After a period of time, employees focus less on what was lost and start accepting the changes.

Phase 4 – Commitment – Once there is full acceptance the employee begins seeing the value of the change and commit to it.

A great way for leaders to reinforce the four phases of reactions to change is with an Improv inspired exercise I call Change Reaction. 

Here’s how simple it is to facilitate:

  • Identify five volunteers.
  • Assign each of the volunteers one of the change reactions listed above.
    • Two people are assigned to act out shock and denial.
    • The third person is assigned anger and fear.
    • The  fourth person is assigned acceptance.
    • And the fifth person is assigned commitment.
  • Next, ask others in the room for an example of an organizational change. Perhaps it’s a new computer operating system, an organizational realignment or a major change in performance reviews.
  • Our first two volunteers begin acting out a conversation about the organizational change. They express shock and denial over the transition.
  • The third person enters the conversation and inserts the element of fear and anger about the change. Almost immediately, all three begin to internalize and express anger and fear.
  • With the arrival of the fourth volunteer, the conversation begins to move toward acceptance of the change.
  • Finally, the last volunteer enters the conversation and the conversation morphs to commitment.

As you debrief the group, make note of the impact one individual’s emotional state can have on the entire process. Facilitate the group to discuss various reactions that might surface in other organizational change scenarios. Finally, consider strategies to mitigate the anger and fear reactions supporting employees as they move towards acceptance.

It’s not unusual for groups to dig deep with this exercise and discover meaningful insights into their own group dynamics.

Give it a try, and as always, let us know what you learn. We love to hear your stories.

Originally published by BossaNova Consulting Group, Inc.
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Barry Edwards

What gets me out of bed in the morning is the opportunity to really engage people—whether I’m coaching an executive, leading a workshop, or facilitating a meeting. That’s because I believe engagement is the key to workplaces that make a difference. I’m also an improvisational comedy performer, teacher, and overall enthusiast. I’ve led dozens of workshops (and written a series of blog articles) on how to bring the art of improv to the business world.

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