Marek Kaszuba, owner and instructor at Trapeze Pro in California says there are two main rules to remember as one learns the art of ‘flying’ trapeze:
SMILE AND LISTEN
I’m sure you’re thinking that can’t possibly be it – there are far more important things for a trapeze artist to remember and practice than those two. Especially considering that a flyer is expected to skillfully let go of a bar, swing through the open air and then grab hold of a fellow catcher’s hands, mid-air. Perhaps he should consider adding ‘don’t fall’ to that list!
Here are my thoughts on why he advises those as the most important:
When you and I engage in an activity that threatens our survival or is not considered ‘normal’, a fear response is triggered in our brains, nudging us to stand back or run. Stress hormones such as cortisol are released, which lead to bodily changes that make us better prepared to respond to danger such as accelerated breathing, dilated pupils and the rise of our blood pressure and heart rate.
Now imagine having to jump from on a still platform to catch a moving target? All of the above and more is happening inside of you at that moment. That’s what a transition feels like – ‘flying trapeze’.
Smiling is an interesting instruction because the action sends a signal to your brain, that although your eyes are perceiving a threat – you’re alright and have it ‘somewhat’ under control. To smile is to detach from what your brain and body are screaming, wanting you to remain attached to the familiar. When you ‘smile’, you almost give yourself permission to go against the grain or status quo.
Think back to a time when your heart rate sped up and your palms began sweating because you were about to make an important address that weighed quite heavily on your career. Remember how you told yourself to breathe, or how you squared your shoulders and plastered a make-shift smile on your face?
You may not have realised it, but you were disengaging in order to progress to the next ‘step’ of your journey. Disengaging in a transition can be likened to when the trapeze artist lets go of the familiar, in order to grab hold of something on the other side.
Working with organisations and individuals in transitions, I’ve found that this is the most challenging part of a transition. This is understandable, because ‘the way we’ve always done things around here’ becomes increasingly comfortable, that we embody it at a cultural level and struggle to see beyond it.
I once worked with the real estate division of a global organisation, and as we sat around the wooden boardroom table, the strategy conversation began steering towards the future of office spaces, and whether teams can expect to be restricted to them in the coming years. One of the leaders stood up and made a statement to his fellow leaders, saying they had to rethink their business model, considering trends we had discussed.
More than his statement, I noted the fear and panic in his eyes, as well as the panic in the eyes of his colleagues, as they processed his words.
Why the panic, you ask? They were going to have to ‘let go’ or unlearn, because what had gotten them to where they were, was not going to get them further. It can be a frightening thought, so as you begin this journey, here are three things that I advise teams to unlearn, as they transition into their unique ‘new normal’:
We can identify a routine as a voluntary and predictable automated behaviour, unlike a habit (eg. biting your lip) that may appear involuntary.
I often speak to teams about the danger of water cooler conversations and how they become ‘the meeting after the meeting’ – often noticing some blushing and a slight murmuring from those I’m addressing.
Water cooler conversations are something that occur frequently and without fail in the organisation, that leadership often turn a blind eye to.
Other dysfunctional routines could include; a leader’s ‘peering over the shoulder’ daily walk arounds, the quality and structure of meetings, back-lash when team members make use of forums to voice concerns or even big ship policies and procedures that don’t align with our intention for decision-making efficiency.
There are many routines in an organisation that stray from the vision that the team aims to ‘grab hold’ of. These practices set organisations back and continue to reinforce an identity that teams are aiming to leave behind.
It is the responsibility of each individual to unlearn these routines collaboratively.
Keeping Emotion At The Door
Dealing with a workplace transition creates immense emotional strain and a key to helping teams transition successfully is validating these emotions.
The culture of ‘leaving emotion at the door’ or ‘keeping emotions out of it’ may need to be rethought.
Managing the emotions of team members through creating forums to voice them, bringing in external help to assist individuals with processing these emotions or taking time as a leader to acknowledge the emotional strain that members of your team are undergoing, and that they are justified in one way or another is important.
Emotions no longer belong outside the door, but must be brought in and used as a catalyst for better decision making and insight.
Do you sometimes feel like your organisation says or does certain things just to tick boxes and declare them as done?
A young lady who works in the marketing division of a global FMCG organisation recently confided in me, saying that she is convinced her organisation only creates forums around certain issues just to tick a box, and not with the intention of creating lasting change and impact. The sad news is that you possibly feel the same way, as many others do.
Not only does carrying out certain practices just to tick boxes prove to be a waste of time, resources and effort, but it distances us even further from the goals we had intended them to serve. A forum created to tick a box, fails to escalate employee input to the correct structures, that would have then used it to inform further progress. When teams notice that the forum fails in this regard, they lose faith in the organisation’s efforts and even the greater vision.
Ticking boxes looks good on paper, but will not make the cut in the face of an organisational transition.
The second rule that the trapeze instructor, Marek advises is ‘listen’. I’m sure many of us can understand why this one would be important for a person who risks their life for a living.
The reason the instruction of ‘listen’ was fascinating for me, is because as the trapeze artist prepares to let go of the bar, it is critical for him/her to know exactly when it’s time to ‘leap’. And what better way to know when to jump other than to listen out for the cues that hint at your readiness.
Think about the one thing that makes it a little easier to move houses? Or leave a treasured relationship to start a new one?
What I’m referring to here not make a world of difference, but you may have noticed that it eases the ‘loss’ associated with letting go of the familiar. You may already know what I’m talking about – it’s taking something with you that represents the lessons from the previous identity/platform.
This is one of the things I advise transitioning teams and
individuals to do: To understand what they are taking into the ‘new’ with them.
This way, you are better prepared to disengage and build on the lessons from the previous.
Here are three things I advise we take with us, as we progress further into a decade of continued disruption and the reimagination of what was once ‘normal’;
Reinforcing Rituals and Routines
Rituals and routines that clearly support the team’s new vision are critical as you transition and they play a key role in transferring the vision from a thick handout into an organisational culture.
These can be anything from ‘Coffee Chat Tuesdays’, to using an uplifting tone when conversing, open question and answer forums, publicly yet constructively criticising disruptive behaviour as a leader or even elbow-bumping in the corridors.
Rituals are not easy to build and maintain, so when we have created those that help to move us forward, we must take them with us as we progress.
William Bridges names the part in a transition between ‘letting go’ and ‘grabbing hold’, the ‘neutral zone’. The neutral zone is said to be a time of reorientation, characterised by confusion, creativity, undirected energy and conflict.
It’s the part in the transition where things get ‘messy’ and you are neither up nor down.
Recalling past victories works profoundly in motivating teams towards the unfamiliar, because they begin to believe in the possibility of victory yet again.
Paul Levy, past CEO (from 2002) at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston, world-renowned for leading a successful turnaround at the institution, used this very tip. When communicating with the hospital staff, Paul would often recall what the team had achieved in the past and what the hospital still resembled for their community.
This technique is so effective that when greater Boston area’s New England Patriots (the community’s treasured football team) won their first Super Bowl championship, staff at the hospital began believing and proclaiming that they could ‘rise from the ashes’ too.
As important as it is to take our victories with us, resilient teams also keep a concise record of where things went wrong. Think about a scar or healed wound you have on your body, although it may not evoke happiness when you look at it, it does remind you of your resilience.
For a team, this can be in the form of strategies that didn’t work in given contexts, models applied incorrectly or products that fell flat in particular markets.
The key here is not to wear those scars as a badge, or have them hang over our heads, but to draw the lessons and insights from them. Every shortcoming indicates an area for growth in our organisation.
When, like a client I recently had the pleasure to work with, your customers are consistently giving low reviews on your call centre efficiency, you not only take ownership of that poor performance as a baseline, but you draw the insights from the data and begin the journey to customer-centric service.
Transitions are an inescapable part of our lives, as we are always in flux. Always leaping from one trapeze bar to another, and just as we begin to settle, it’s time to smile, listen and take the next leap.
The capacity to transition is critical
Keep smiling, or in other words ‘unlearning the status quo’ and listening by taking the right things with you into our reimagined future.
Bridges, William. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley, 1991.
Garvin, David A., and Michael A. Roberto. “Change Through Persuasion.” Harvard Business Review 83, no. 2 (February 2005): 104–112. https://hbr.org/2005/02/change-through-persuasion
Sonya Derian, Lessons on The Trapeze: The Art of Making Things Happen. https://tinybuddha.com/blog/lessons-on-the-trapeze-the-art-of-making-things-happen/