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Interpersonal interventions.

Companies often consult the change management division to become involved in teams with issues on an interpersonal level. Despite the fact that change methodologies cover ways to deal with conflict or resistance, it took me a while to gather some practical examples of interpersonal interventions. Such interventions are specific and planned actions with an individual or a group to improve the functioning of that group (or individuals in that group).

Outside the more classical interventions like giving feedback, providing coaching or arranging brainstorming sessions, I find it interesting to go for interventions that involve movement or stimulate the creative part of the brain as it helps to make sure the experience is felt and embodied.

As embodied experiences often lead to faster adoption of the change, it might be worthwhile considering some of the possible interventions below:

 1. Ups-and-downs of change

Possible situation: a merge between 2 companies in the banking industry led to the development of 2 sub-cultures in the company because the change impact was very different for the employees of 1 of the 2 companies. This led to many discussions between the members of the 2 sub-cultures.

Objective: for groups to understand their intuitive reactions to change. To increase awareness that collectively they have the power to choose a positive attitude towards change. Allowing time for a thorough discussion of each term will also give employees the opportunity to express their concerns and shed light on what management can expect.


1) Prepare a list of change-related words.
2) Use this list of change-related words, read aloud a term and ask employees to raise their hand if the term elicits a positive response and then again to lower their hand if the term elicits a negative response
3) Have everyone observe the room. Does everyone agree? Is it split? Why might this be?
4) Open the floor to discuss the term’s positive or negative connotations and why.
5) Guide the discussion to focus on intuitive reactions towards change and how it might be possible to regard change in a more positive light.

2. Run for your life 

Possible situation: rumors have it that management will be implementing a new IT application shortly. People are not aware about the reasons why and have a lot of questions. Implementation is foreseen next month. 

Objective: share information about new changes to ensure people are sufficiently informed in advance in a way that you also share insights into the necessary change support for the future


1) Ensure a fun setting with music, buzzers, etc.… and split the room by putting 3 pieces of paper on the floor to define different areas (A, B and C or 1, 2 or 3).
2) Break up the group in 3 smaller groups.
3) Ask multiple choice questions about the changes ahead and ask people to run as fast as they can to the relevant area in line with what they believe is the right answer to the question.

3. Changing places

Possible situation: after the merge between 2 companies, management combined 2 administrative divisions into 1 and wanted to standardize the way of working across the new division. Team members are not willing to participate in this exercise as they are scared of losing their job.

Objective: highlight our innate resistance to change and the benefits of moving away from a comfort zone to the unknown. Acknowledge the fear of the unknown and share information about the need for upcoming changes.


1) Prepare a space with enough chairs for people to sit on and some additional ones.
2) Invite employees to sit wherever they want.
3) Then have them move to a different seat.
4) Ask them to think about how their perspective changed in moving to the new seat and why.
5) After stretching for a minute, tell them they can now sit wherever they like. Watch which seat they choose.

Play the game twice and see if people behave the same way the second time. Start a discussion as to why people may have changed their choice the second time around.

4. Wedding dance

Possible situation: the members of a project team are invited to a team building exercise but several people have indicated they feel uncomfortable participating as there are a lot of hidden frustrations and they are scared these might arise during the team building.

Objective : ensure a safe basis for open dialogue particularly with groups that feel uncomfortable expressing themselves or do not have a habit of showing real feelings


1) Show a range of possible feelings through a series of pictures of people showing (strong) emotions.
2) Ask people to pick the emotion that resonates best with how they feel at the start of the workshop.
3) Request all to find a movement for themselves that expresses the feeling without expressing in words and ask to repeat the movement to make it clear for each individually.
4) Invite all to stand in a circle and then open it by asking the first person to do the movement and requesting the others to repeat this movement as a group.
5) The wedding dance ends when all participants have done their movements in the circle.

5. Talking circle 

Possible situation: a group of 10 managers is dissatisfied with the fact that they were not sufficiently involved in a new program focusing on employee health. The managers are therefore not willing to enroll their team members in the health program.

Objective: enable a safe space to discuss about issues or concerns thereby ensuring that each individual is heard and the conversation takes place in a constructive way


1) Invite all members to sit on a chair in a circle.
2) Introduce a talking stick and explains the rules.
3) Open the circle by introducing the topic of the discussion as an open question.
4) Ask people to express freely thereby respecting the following rules:

  • Only the person that holds the stick talks, the others listen
  • When the person holding the stick stops talking, the stick is passed on to the next person in the circle who decides whether or not to speak holding the stick
  • The stick is passed on to the next people in the group until all members of the group have had the opportunity to speak
  • Any group member can request the stick at the end of the round
  • When someone intervenes without holding the stick, he will be asked to respect the rules

5) End the circle when all have finished talking or when the allotted time has expired.

6. World Cafe

Possible situation: management has some ideas to make changes to operational processes but they want to make sure they’ve captured all relevant elements before deciding on an action plan as in the past operations managers didn’t adopt the changes. Management wants to avoid this from happening again.

Objective : collect ideas from employees openly to understand the full scope and impact on these employees of the changes that need to take place. In essence it it is a flexible format for hosting large group dialogues.


1) Setting: Create a “special” environment, most often modeled after a café, i.e. small round tables covered with a checkered or white linen tablecloth, butcher block paper, colored pens, a vase of flowers, and optional “talking stick” item. There should be four chairs at each table (optimally) – and no more than five.

2) Welcome and Introduction: The host begins with a warm welcome and an introduction to the World Café process, setting the context, sharing the Cafe Etiquette, and putting participants at ease.

3) Small Group Rounds: The process begins with the first of three or more twenty minute rounds of conversation for the small group seated around a table. At the end of the twenty minutes, each member of the group moves to a different new table. They may or may not choose to leave one person as the “table host” for the next round, who welcomes the next group and briefly fills them in on what happened in the previous round.

4) Questions: each round is prefaced with a question specially crafted for the specific context and desired purpose of the World Café. The same questions can be used for more than one round, or they can be built upon each other to focus the conversation or guide its direction.

5) Harvest: After the small groups (and/or in between rounds, as needed), individuals are invited to share insights or other results from their conversations with the rest of the large group. These results are reflected visually in a variety of ways, most often using graphic recording in the front of the room.

 7. Selective attention

Possible situation: people are invited to a brainstorming session but previous experience with the group has learnt that rarely new ideas pop-up as people tend to argue or stop listening to each other during the process. Previous sessions stopped after 20’ because no ideas were brought to the table.

Objective: increase the awareness of people to observe others and be more attentive during group exercises like brainstorming workshops.

Format: choose one of the videos below or both to indicate that people are often influenced by what they are supposed to see versus really observe what’s happening

Are you a good detective?

What is your observation capacity?

8. Mystery guest

Possible situation: a production company has been trying for years to improve the customer complaint handling process but with every change, the quality of the customer complaint handling has deteriorated. The project team put in place to improve the process is not motivated to lead the new project as they expect no positive outcome.

Objective: motivate people to think out of the box, to move away from their everyday context or to create diversity particularly when dealing with issues that are persistent or difficult to solve. Often used to change people’s mindsets about specific aspects of their job (eg to increase internal customer focus of operations divisions).


1) Invite a mystery guest from another division to participate in staff meetings, group discussions, project meetings or brainstorming sessions who have no specific knowledge of the topic.
2) Introduce the topic to the group by asking open questions.
3) Ensure there is an open dialogue and that people interact with the mystery guest.

9. The moving space

Possible situation: the logistics manager of a production company is sitting in a glass room overlooking the production hall and to get to him, people need to take several stairs and pass multiple desks of other managers. The logistics manager feels he has insufficient contact with his people on the floor, the people on the floor wonder what the logistics manager does the entire day.

Objective: look into the physical aspects of where people are located and assess the impact on their interpersonal relationships. Subsequently suggest changes in the work space in order to improve the group dynamics.


1) Create awareness with the manager on the current work space by listing advantages and disadvantages as well as the impact on the team.
2) Look into possible alternatives and pilot prior to making a final decision.
3) Phase in the new work space by partially being present in both the old and the new work space during a transition period of 2 months for instance.

 10. Break the bull 

Possible situation: a team leader organizes staff meetings weekly. She prepares the agenda, is always on time and introduces topics in an active way to stimulate discussions with the team. Every week, however, the situation is the same: people don’t really participate and are eager to leave the meeting early. The team leader is exhausted after each staff meeting.

Objective: change people’s usual behavior by increasing awareness on their own behaviors or by doing the unexpected. Reference is made to the saying ‘like a bull in the porcelain shop’ to refer to behavior that inflicts damage, whether literally or figuratively. Breaking this behavior is the objective of this intervention.


1) Instead of showing the agenda at the beginning of a meeting, ask people to define the content themselves when the meeting starts.
2) When you see the energy is low during a workshop, ask people to get up and move around.
3) Say things like: Everybody is quiet, what’s happening inside of your heads? I see you are elsewhere, what do you need to be present?
4) Keep quiet for several minutes and just observe without saying a word.

11. Soft shoe shuffle 

Possible situation: a company has invested in a leadership training program for all senior managers. A specific group of managers is experiencing issues because several members have arrived late or were unprepared. Several managers expressed to the trainer they are frustrated about this.

Objective: improve group dynamics of a team.


1) Invite all to stand in a circle.
2) Introduce a question or topic.
3) Invite all to state their opinion or judgement.
4) When people state their opinion or judgement, invite the others to take a step forward towards the person speaking to indicate that they agree with the statement or take a step backward if they disagree. 
5) Invite others to introduce a question or topic and repeat the process.

People indicate where they ‘stand’ through the position they take in the circle (either in the center or by moving closer to the person introducing the topic).

The topic or question will change and the people will move physically as well as mentally by expressing the topics that are relevant and indicating what is their opinion.

12. Can do Company 

Possible situation: a cross-functional group was put in place to build a strategy around the outsourcing of a business critical application. The people in this group have never worked together in the past and come from different divisions of the company.

Objective: motivate new teams to work together in a flexible way by adopting open communication and enabling members to take on different roles so they can more easily understand the position of the other members.


1) Divide employees into groups and have them come up with an idea for a company such as candy bars for cats or water bottles for dogs.
2) Assign members of each group to specific job functions like designing, marketing, distributing, etc.
3) Have each “mini-company” collaborate and prepare a presentation on their product and business plan.
4) After 10 minutes, change the dynamic of the group by moving participants from one group to another, change specifications for the final presentation and share important information to only one member of each group.
5) Depending on how much time you have, you can repeat the changes or spread them out throughout.
6) After the allotted time has been used, have each group present to pick a winner.

 13. Open Space 

Possible situation: a new IT services company is growing very fast and wants to gather with its employees to define a 3-year strategic plan for the company.

Objective: gather ideas of larger groups around topics that are complex and future oriented.


1) a broad, open invitation which articulates the purpose of the meeting.
2) participants’ chairs arranged in a circle.
3) a “bulletin board” of issues and opportunities posted by participants.
4) a “marketplace” with many break-out spaces that participants move freely between, learning and contributing as they “shop” for information and ideas.
5) a “breathing” or “pulsation” pattern of flow, between plenary and small-group breakout sessions.

Important rule:

When a participant is in a breakout room where he doesn’t learn anything or where he’s not inspired, he needs to leave the room and move to a more productive breakout room.

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