Boomerang Change

Have you ever walked into a meeting and known, almost instantly, that there was a disturbance in the force?

It’s hard to put your finger on, but it’s there. The sense that something is different than it was yesterday. And, if you’ve been around for a while, the realization that life as you know it is going to get bumpy. You’re not sure how, you just know.

And then it happens…


The Big New Shiny

The meeting starts and the pronouncement is made. Going forward, we’ll be using [insert big new shiny tool] in order to [get big new shiny result].

Cue the groans and eyerolls.

In our busy, fast-paced world, it can be tempting to get swept up in the latest productivity or team building trends. With the best of intentions, we foist changes onto our teams to help everyone do more, work faster, etc.

It could be a new project management app, a different format for routine meetings, or even ‘helpful’ adjustments to systems that are not broken.

Regardless, whatever the big new shiny is, it has very little chance of sustainability. Why? Because we do not operate in a vacuum.

Our decisions impact our colleagues and when there’s a lack of transparency and buy-in, it shows.

And that’s how we end up with Boomerang Change.

This is what happens when Perceived Challenge leads to Big Change which results in Unsuccessful Efforts leading us right back to the original Challenge.

The boomerang gets tossed out in the hopes of enacting big changes, only to return to the very place it started from. No meaningful habits or routines are cultivated. There’s little to no progress made. And a significant amount of time and effort is lost.

But, worst of all, the team still has the very same challenge they had before the boomerang took flight!


Trade the Boomerang for A Shovel

Instead of the big new shiny boomerang, I offer the humble shovel instead.

It’s not nearly as showy or exciting, but it is, more often than not, the right tool for the job.

The trouble with boomerangs is that they often miss the point of the actual problems. Sure, it’s exciting to jump in and take action, but actions are only as good as their relationship to a problem.

There’s a terrific post and graphic from Dr. Carrie Goucher on viewing the nuance of organizational culture through the lens of meetings. And, if you want to go further, check out this video from Dr. Sam Kaner on the Gradients of Agreement. The whole video is a worth a watch, but this part shows up at about the one-hour mark.  

Bring a sturdy shovel to a meeting and you can dig into the issues at hand and get to the root of what’s actually causing challenges for your team, giving you a clear path forward toward progress.


How to Avoid Boomerang Change

Solve the Right Problem: So much time and effort is lost in following assumptions, rather than digging into discussions. It may seem counterintuitive to spend time in discussion instead of taking immediate action, but I assure you it’s time well spent.

Ask good questions and then listen. Stop talking, stop thinking, and really listen.

Listen for patterns, potential impacts, and the real-world issues that slow down your team. Then, prioritize and move forward. The Five Whys is a fantastic approach for this. It’s a practical method for first principles thinking to help you and your team find the source of an issue, rather than its symptoms.

And that is invaluable.

Solving the right problem, improves both the efficiency and the outcomes of the process; making it a win-win for everyone involved.

Go Slow: With any kind of change, too much at once can be overwhelming to both the people and projects you’re aiming to help.

Once you have the right problem identified, map out your action steps. Determine a reasonable implementation plan that allows for adequate evaluation. If there are too many variables running at once, it can be difficult to accurately assess which ones are improving – or worsening – your existing process.

And variables aside, go slow because change is hard. People need time to adjust and your team needs space to uncover unexpected dependencies, impacts, and issues.

Go slow and let the process unfold organically.

Reflect on the Solution: If there’s going to be a shortcut, this is usually where it will happen. We are very accustomed to action. Less so to reflection.

But reflection is key. Reflection and action are two sides of the very same coin.

Sit with the changes that were adopted. Discuss them openly and look for gaps, weaknesses, and inconsistencies, in addition to successes. Use this as a time to build trust and accountability within your team by actively seeking critical feedback and thoughtful suggestions.

This is how we improve. 

Build from There: The reflection process should result in a handful of targeted tweaks that are highly impactful. Now it’s time to, and I can’t stress this enough, do them!

One of the worst things you can do to a team is to bring them together, gather their feedback, generate hope, and then fail to follow through. It results in a culture of cynicism and distrust from which it is hard to recover.

Instead, do the things. Follow through. Set another time for reflection and follow through again. It’s good exercise!


Boomerangs Are Overrated

Boomerang change, although exciting in the moment, is wildly detrimental to teams. It’s futile, exhausting, and beyond frustrating.

A methodical approach to change, by its very nature, is slower. That’s okay.

You’re building buy-in with your team through a process that’s transparent and inclusive and that can take some time, especially at the beginning.

Nearly everything we do in our organizations, impacts one or more of our colleagues. It’s incumbent upon all of us, especially leaders, to be cognizant of those impacts and work toward better discussions that lead to better outcomes.

Simon Sinek put it beautifully when he said “Transparency doesn’t mean sharing every detail. Transparency means providing the context for the decisions we make.”

Trade the boomerangs for a good, solid shovel and get to work.

Dig in. Root down. And see what blooms. 

Check out my new book Start With Better Meetings. Discover a practical method with the potential to add 2-3 usable hours back into your work week.