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  • Writer's pictureColleen Nelson

As The Twig Is Bent So Grows The Tree

Updated: Jan 21, 2023

Change can be hard for all teams to navigate. As a leader you can use Systems Thinking to guide yourself and your teams through change. This is a way of processing information in a complex ecosystem. Change involves you, individuals, and the company. To achieve the success of long-term change you do not need to make quick or drastic changes all at once. Many people do not have the flexibility for extreme change happening all at once. But many can bend enough to change the trajectory and reach your long-term goals. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.

System Thinking. Begin this first part by considering the individuals and not their functions. We tend to think of people in their job roles, rather than as individuals. This will cause you to overlook the person but more importantly it will prevent you from seeing your interactions with the individuals. Before the twig can bend you have to know what direction you want to move and how much pressure you need to apply. If the individuals you need to change are inspired by your words, you will need to meet with them. If they are inspired by your actions, they will need to see you modeling the change. If they take guidance from an informal leader, you will need that person onboard with your change.

Personal Mastery. It is important as a leader you can explain the business need requiring change. This brings rationality into the equation and will help answer the question; Why. People also want to understand the details behind how the change will happen. They will want to understand how they are expected to change and how that change will support the business need. Before you bend the twig, you need to know why it needs to bend, where it grows to, and how to make the bend stay in place while the tree grows. When people understand your vision and how that supports the business need, they will be more open and ready to respond to what is coming.

Mind Models. Understand how the individuals you are asking to change process information. As you develop your details of how this change will take effect in the Personal Mastery section consider the following:

  • What are the new elements being added? Will you need twine to hold the twig in place?

  • What are the elements being removed? Will you have to trim back other trees to make more room for growth?

  • How do the pieces fit together? How does the twig, the tree, the ground all come together to achieve your vision?

Shared Vision. Once you have worked through the first three steps you need to confirm all individuals share your vision. You want their support for the change, or you will find they work against you. To ensure you have a shared vision identify potential roadblocks and have a plan to address them. Communicate your plan to address those issues before they arise. By removing roadblocks, the team knows they have your support through change. You will want to have the right tools (twine, clippers, stakes), you will want to have the right process (how do we bend the twig, how do we follow up to ensure it is bent the right way), you will need constant communication (who is monitoring the twig and is it on track to grow as expected).

Team Learning. Guiding a team through change is not a one-time communication. A changing team involves by sharing knowledge. Schedule regular check-ins. Have the individuals share lessons learned. This is a great time to develop best practices, procedures, and processes for long-term success. In these check-in sessions also discuss what is not working. See if the team has found a way to address issues and offer your support where needed. Over time circumstances change. To know the twig will grow as you envisioned, you will need to keep informed about any factors causing it to go off course.

Using this approach, you will find you and the team feel more confident about the change happening. With that confidence will come acceleration. People will spend more time working toward the vision rather than fighting it. They will find additional ways to contribute to the success. For as the twig is bent, so grows the tree.

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