In a dynamic world, organizations can’t be static—even if they wanted to be. Change is a constant that organizations can’t ignore. In discussing individuals, we identified that individuals are constantly changing in their perspectives, filters and beliefs. Events also are constantly changing, which is only logical since events unfold from the actions of individuals. Remember: Individuals are responsible for 99.4% of the world’s problems.
Individual perspectives, filters and beliefs are not expressed in a vacuum, but occur within the events of life. A new hire will have a different perspective than a grizzled veteran. Newlyweds will view things differently than a couple celebrating their twenty-year wedding anniversary. In these and most cases, the event cycle impacts individual opinion. Newlyweds won’t just have a different perspective than an established married couple, the newlyweds will most likely have different filters and belief based on the stage of their marriage.
The event cycle represents the passage of time and the change involved. While the stages of the event cycle are often viewed as the beginning, middle and end, we look at the event cycle states as starting, maintaining and changing. Just as individuals matter in a situational perspective, recognizing the involved stage of the event cycle is also important. We believe that everyone and everything follows the stages of the event cycle—although you’ll see that the changing stage provides some serious flexibility.
The Starting Stage
In the beginning, there was the beginning. The starting stage always seems to be a flurry of activity. New ideas, perceptions and expectations have to be formed—and so much is still unknown. We haven’t even met the new neighbors. We, too, could be winners. We have to pack right now and leave for the airport—did you turn the oven off? Shut the garage door? Lock up the children? Like a book, we are getting to know the characters, setting and plot.
In the starting stage of events, information has to be gathered and filters have to be adjusted. These activities are challenged by both the pure volume of digestion required by new events countered by the limited amount of information available, (since everything is new and we have limited experience). When working with a new group, for example, one of the challenges is to form a working concept of everyone in the group. Defining each group member starts with identification information such as their name and might grow into complex information such as understanding each group member’s beliefs. While every group member represents a complex set of information, initially, we have only a relatively small set of information to process, (“Hi! I’m Sandy!”)
As the event cycle moves into the maintaining stage, it is important to understand that our actions are greatly influenced by the concepts developed during the starting stage which were formed with limited—and perhaps incorrect—information. The basis of our understanding begins in the starting stage, but it shouldn’t end in the starting stage. While it is frustrating to have to pour a new foundation for a conceptual structure, it is often necessary for conceptual structural integrity. Often, the starting stage is where mistakes get made that, left unchecked, doom an organization, (“Let’s not worry about a general liability policy—that’s just an expense we don’t need right now.”)
The Maintaining Stage
Once the ball gets rolling, it tends to roll. This is the maintaining stage of the event cycle. While events are still occurring, we tend to process this information as a pattern of acceptable if not expected events. We might not understand what is happening in the maintaining stage any better than the starting stage, but we certainly feel more ready to process the information of the events occurring in the maintaining stage.
The conceptual readiness resulting from the maintaining cycle is comforting. Group members feel like they know or are ready for what is going to happen. Information is perceived in familiar, ready-to-eat, easily digestible packets. A sense of control might even emerge. Sometimes the starting cycle induces a powerless or ineffectual feeling. This feeling changes in the maintaining cycle to a sense of readiness and control.
Each individual has their own process and time frame for sorting through the often confusing starting stage and arriving at the much more comfortable maintaining stage. And when their comfort level changes, often, so do their actions. While the comfort level of the maintaining stage might be desirable to the individual, it is not always desirable to the organization. Often, the challenge to an organization is to convince individuals to venture from their warm cocoon of the maintaining stage to embrace or deal with change.
The Changing Stage
Just as everything has a beginning, it also has a change. Sure, many people would say “end” instead of “change,” but our perspective is to view any end as a change, because even events that stop leave repercussions and ramifications that have to be addressed. We have probably each had someone in our lives who we were exposed to for only a limited amount of time—a teacher, relative, mentor—who continues to influence us on even a daily basis. The person may be gone, but the relationship continues to change our lives. Our relationship with that person didn’t end with their absence, it changed.
Like the starting stage, the changing stage tends to be hectic and perhaps uncomfortable. But while the starting stage is often comprised of processing the information resulting from a flurry of events—or one event and its ripples—the changing stage tends to be more concerned with processing the emotions related to change. As our group members see their meetings coming to an end and the dissolution of the group, they might ask, “Why is this happening? How do I feel about this? What does this mean to my life?” Obviously, the more important the group is in our example, the more potentially profound the emotional response might be.
The key relationship between the changing stage and the starting stage is that people will find it very difficult to enter the starting stage if they haven’t reconciled the emotions from a related event’s changing stage. If group members have unresolved feelings about events from their last group, they will find it difficult to fully engage in any new group. Often, the stages of starting and changing overlap. A group member might start a new group and use that experience to help resolve lingering issues from the changing state of their previous group.
Event Cycle Summary
Understanding the stages of the event cycle allows an organization to consider each stage as part of their situational perspective. In the starting stage of forming groups, for example, organization should think twice about putting groups of inexperienced strangers together without allowing for the time necessary for group members to gain some comfort with each other and the situation. Be aware that some individuals can move quickly through the starting stage while other individuals will need some prodding and assistance. Build a process where the group can review the early assumptions their later work is built upon.
The maintaining stage can be a very productive time for an organization. Groups are in rapport and can move quickly through tasks based on their knowledge and understanding of one another. The comfortable maintaining stage often involves less discord than the starting and changing stages, so some individuals who enjoy conflict have to be saved from themselves during the maintaining stage. In general, though, the maintaining stage is where the most effective and efficient groups reside. Although reaching the maintaining stage doesn’t mean that group members can stop processing information, building relationships and exploring alternatives, without the distractions of starting and changing, things get done in the maintaining stage.
Addressing the changing stage is best done beginning with the starting stage. While we don’t know what changes will come, it would be foolish to build an organization without addressing potential changes. The basis of successful organizations may not be apparent, but like beach front property, they are constructed to withstand hurricanes that would demolish normal structures. When changes do occur, having timely processes helps to move individuals through the changing stage so that they are prepared to enter into a new starting stage. While the event cycle has been applied to a group in this summary, the event cycle stages also apply to our situational perspective of individuals.