Jenga Resistance and Leading Change

Take a block from the middle and you put it on top…

If you’ve never played the classic family game of moving wood blocks out of a stable tower and placing them gently to build the tower higher just click on the link above; it’s a classic.

A leader I’m working with has been getting a lot of resistance to some of the new initiatives they are bringing to a long established organization. It’s frustrating to follow all the theories about how to introduce change and still have people making complaints and accusations about mission drift and abandoning the good history of the cause. Even more so when you’ve deliberately over-communicated, slowed things down, and carefully explained how well aligned these projects with the mission/vision/values and the opportunities for greater impact that will come.

So what’s happening here?

I think its a game of Jenga.

For some people, moving any block from the stable tower (even if the tower is becoming outdated and declining in results) puts the whole tower at risk. They can’t discern which pieces are load bearing and they are afraid everything that has been accomplished could be destroyed by moving the wrong block.

These fears aren’t entirely unreasonable. There are endless examples of organizations that have collapsed or lost their centre when leaders moved the wrong block.

Some people, whether due to demographics, personality types, lived experience, or the influence of others who oppose change, are simply unable to perceive which blocks represent essentials and which ones are actually moveable. (This may be more true in faith based organizations where opinions about some matters may be rooted in deeply embedded traditions and convictions with limited room for nuance.)

Coming back to organizational values is a key part of getting this right. When Accidental Values are mistaken for Core Values change is going to be seen as a threat.

Strong leaders have a knack for identifying which blocks can better be used to grow the tower, and which ones need to stay in place to keep things from falling apart. Wise leaders also have the insight to help others see the difference so they can join in the process of change instead of resisting it.

Ultimately there may be times when your certainty that a block can be moved safely can’t convince everyone. That’s when you need to carefully consider the risks and benefits and then make a confident decision. Either leave it in place for now and trust that if it needs to be moved there will be a better time to do so, or move it and accept the possibility that it may fail, and even if it succeeds some people may never be able to acknowledge that you were right.

And even if the tower falls, you’ll probably have a chance to gather the pieces and start again.

If you could use a little help articulating values, figuring out which blocks to move, or leading with confidence, clarity, and compassion; contact us for a free conversation about how we can help.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

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