The Tug of War, a strategy to support becoming agents of culture

A tool that is simple and works well for tracking school change is the tug of war protocol.

The Tug of War works just like a real tug of war: two sides are pulling on one rope in opposite directions, creating tension and conflict.

A tug of war is a visual representation of what happens in an organization when people experience challenges to understanding.

Shared understanding is essential so everyone is working toward the same vision and goals. When everyone understands WHY each member of the team is an agent of the group’s goal, work becomes meaningful and purposeful. This perception of work as meaningful and purposeful is empowering; it is integral to how we feel about what we have to do.

The Tug of War serves to make visible the process of improvement as the organization moves to achieve its goals.

Modeling the Tug of War at a workshop in Rome.

Here is how it works.

There are two sides to a tug of war, and they may be Challenges and Strengths or Challenges and Understandings or Challenges and Successes/Triumphs, or similar.

The two extremes of the continuum are placed at either side of the rope. The rope is a significant element in this visual tool because it represents not only the conflict between status quo and change goals, but the rope also suggests a continuum. Along the continuum, the change agent (each member of the group) may identify his or her own process of addressing Challenges to move along the continuum toward Strengths.

Writing down the Challenges allows these to become visible to the whole group. Writing down the Strengths is empowering as it helps groups see what actions and outcomes have resulted from its collaborative work.

In a discussion of organizational change Black and Gregersen in their book It Starts with One, suggest that change is challenged in an organization because of three failures: Failure to See, Failure to Move, and Failure to Finish.

Failure to see the need for change results in costly trajectories. For IKEA trying to get into the home furnishing market in the US, it was evident that failure to see the challenge was costly. IKEA tried to advertise their beddings items in metric measurements. They did not sell many of these in the US, where the standard measurement system is still in feet. Instead of converting to local standards, IKEA decided to spend more money on advertising, but still using the metric measurements to push their beddings.

They ended up with warehouses bursting with beddings, unsold.

This is an example of how an organization failed to see the need for change and as a result failed to accomplish a goal they had set.

Using the tug of war visualization addresses the challenge in change leadership of Failure to See.

Making visible the challenges to an organization in pursuit of change goals makes sure that the barriers to success become known to all. This allows the members to address these barriers and transform them into actions.

Actions are concrete and allow each individual member to understand how they might perform something to contribute to achieving the organizational goal. Making visible this quality of being a change agent potentially creates a vision of agency within the members of the organization.

Walking the journey toward Strengths visibly, by physically moving Challenges toward the Strengths side as these become realities by the actions of the group, allows for tangible celebration.

Traversing change is not easy, and at times it is a situation wherein what we’ve always done is not what we now need to do. The amorphous terrain toward agentic impact can elicit fear and distress in the extreme and discomfort at best.

Seeing something that used to be a challenge moving toward strength is direct and visible feedback for actions performed.

We all know from educational research that direct and visible feedback is most effective in shaping achievement. A collaborative picture of a continuum of change does not feel evaluative for individuals of the group, and may encourage a shared sense of mission. It also feels pretty good to see ourselves approaching success at achieving a goal.

The tug of war protocol is a simple tool, and this simplicity makes it easy to use. It is also a flexible tool. I’ve seen it used for making visible the barriers to personal change, as well as barriers to change for an entire school.

This century is one wherein change is exponential in frequency and scope.

What might personal agency look like in your organization’s tug of war?

Author: alavina

Cognitive Coach and author. I simplify personal power so you can use mental resources and find pathways to your goals, be more productive and feel in control every day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.