Small Change in the Classroom

agent-of-change-01Strategy classes often give short shrift to managing change but this is where the rubber hits the road. Chris Smith offers a number of very simple group exercises that allow a deeper dive. These are especially helpful since they demonstrate key points quickly but in an interactive way. Of course, there are many other change management materials in the toolbox. One of my favorites is the classroom ruse. Here are a few that jumped out at me from Smith’s page:

Small Change: Cross Your Arms. Ask students to cross their arms. When they are comfortable, ask them to cross their arms the other way. Ask why the 2nd attempt might have left them feeling uncomfortable, even though it’s basically the same action. How tricky is it to cross your arms in different ways and equally how tricky it is to cope with even very small changes? Steer the conversation towards specific changes within the university or in their experience with other organizations. Discuss how to deal with such discomfort.

Mindful Routines: Alien at Dinner. Ask students to imagine themselves as aliens observing a human dinner party. Their task is to point out unusual human social norms and to explain them to the beings on their imaginary planet. Why do they drink poisonous alcohol? Why do they knock their glasses together when celebrating? This exercise helps to point out that just because something is accepted, does not mean it is the best way of doing things. It prompts students to examine existing routines anew and assess whether there are better methods.

Small change: Trading places. Allow students to sit wherever they want… then have them change seats. Ask them to think about how their perspective changed and why. 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 2nd time. Discuss why people may have changed their choice the 2nd time. This gets at the discomfort created even by very small changes.

Semantics of change. Ask students to indicate whether each term (below) elicits a positive, negative or neutral response (show of hands or voting cards). Does everyone agree? Why/Why not? Discuss each term’s connotations. This exercise helps groups understand intuitive reactions to change and that they can choose a positive perspective. Here are some words one might include: Plan, Target, Restart, Implementation, Team, Restructure, Improvement, Process, Cancel, Modernization, Leadership, Strategy, Assessment, Vision, Uncertain, Initiative, Resistance, New Direction, Technology, Transformation, Project, Growth.

Can Do Company. Divide students into groups and have them come up with an idea for a company (e.g., candy bars for cats). Assign members of each group to specific functions (designing, marketing, distributing, etc.). Have each “mini-company” prepare a presentation on their product/plan. After 10 minutes, shake things up by moving participants across groups, changing presentation specifications, and sharing key information to only one member of each group. After the allotted time, have each group present & pick a winner. This forces participants to be flexible, communicate, and work together. Discuss how teams adapted & what benefits came from new members or new specifications.

Contributed by Chris Smith

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