Five golden rules for changemakers.

If we want to change our working world (and society), we need development, learning and change processes throughout the relevant system. Complex change initiatives can succeed. Collective intelligence can be activated. The following five basic ideas show how this can be achieved.

Changemakers know: Failed initiatives are not uncommon. Sometimes the reasons lie in strange relationship offers and unconscious secondary messages that do not serve the purpose. Other times, the complexity and evolving dynamics are underestimated. But successful change in the entire relevant system is possible!

The following „five golden rules for changemakers“ can make the success of multi-perspective change initiatives more likely:

  1. as early as possible
  2. as representative as necessary
  3. as powerful as possible
  4. as clear as possible
  5. as long-term as necessary and as short-term as possible

1. as early as possible

Enable participation at the earliest possible stage. Ideally, when the idea for a change project has just emerged. Or – in the second best case – when there is already an idea or initial conception of the desirable target state, but no concrete plan yet on how to get there.

Work together with all relevant stakeholders (interest groups) as early as possible and bring the key points, expectations and interests to light in the early phases of a project! It quickly becomes clear who needs to talk to whom about what. Is it about systemic problem solving or negotiating interests (big difference!)?

Misunderstandings, disappointed expectations and cynicism can be avoided. A good start is half the battle! „Participation at the earliest possible stage“ is the principle. It can help to save energy, time and money, because if you work with the knowledge of the system at an early stage, you can succeed in…

  • uncover obstructive basic assumptions or conflicting interests at an early stage,
  • develop trusting and resilient relationships at all relevant levels and areas right from the start,
  • not to talk (and decide) about people, but with people. That is an acceptable relationship offer!


2. as representative as necessary

Gather the knowledge and wisdom of the people who will be affected by the impact of the project. Test out different ideas, similar motivations and initial ideas with those of other stakeholders. What reactions and thoughts are there? You may discover blind spots right at the start phase. Participation in the early project phases often creates a completely different atmosphere! Why is that the case? People are more willing to participate if their expertise is requested in the early phases of a project/initiative. This is a different invitation than just „joining in“ and „liking it“. The associated principle is „This or something better!“ (meaning: „I have an idea for a solution, but if there is something better or more coherent from your point of view, then let’s talk!“)

This intention and will formation in the initial phase of complex change processes can make a big difference! We Kommunikationslotsen have had good experience of carrying out such early explorations with so-called pilot groups. A pilot group is a representative cross-section of an entire, relevant system. These are people…

  • who have a specific perspective on the topic,
  • who have the power or means to set things in motion
  • and who will be affected by the consequences.


„Our society is only just beginning to explore what can be achieved when very different groups work on the same task.“

Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff

Through this diversity or multi-perspectivity from the outset, many careless mistakes or unconscious irritations due to individual assumptions (which are immediately rejected) can be avoided!

What else could you pay attention to when casting?

Pay attention to social and demographic characteristics in order to put together a group that is as representative as possible: Men and women, young and old, long and short tenure (in the case of organizations), people from the center and the periphery, people who think such projects are great and those who are more likely to be assumed to be opposed and have a fundamentally critical perspective. Play it safe. Use the complete knowledge of the entire relevant system right from the start.


3. as powerful as possible

Give or ensure that the pilot group and the facilitators are given a strong mandate. As a rule, the aim is to (pre-)explore a path and develop a process design that enables the entire relevant system to follow this path and gain its own experience. A pilot group then becomes an extended body of perception and a facilitator/hosting team at the same time.

A finger on the pulse of the organization or the larger system

The pilot group usually plans and provides support more sustainably and successfully than individual decision-makers or expert committees, because everything that is created is discussed, tried out, evaluated and decided on an ongoing basis in the diversity of all possible perspectives. That alone is good news.

„The reputation of decision-making processes is crucial. The pure exercise of power is less and less accepted.“

Klaus Eidenschink

The pilot group is the nucleus for the upcoming change: this is where the actual change takes place. Dynamics emerge, the issue is resolved here in the fractal (cross-section of the relevant system). The pilot group serves as an extended body of perception. Due to its representativeness, it always has its finger on the pulse of the organization (or the larger system). It quickly develops both substantive and procedural expertise in often very complex situations.

Why do we need facilitators?

Facilitators accompany and advise the pilot group and the primary client (management team, decision-makers). They are all-parties (not neutral), they have experience and process know-how. They know the social technologies that are needed and bring these skills into the organization or project as early and as quickly as possible. Facilitators only provide support for as long as necessary. The aim is to strengthen change resilience in organizations (and groups) and to make themselves superfluous as soon as possible.


4. be as clear as possible

Make sure it is clear from the outset what the mandate of the pilot group is and what the givens are. As a rule, this involves resources (time & money), scope for decision-making (where participation and the knowledge of the system are required), role clarity (who takes on which function and, if applicable, expert role and when) and communication channels (how cooperation with the various management levels takes place). You can find out more about the mandate here.

Finally, the mandate and scope of action of the pilot group is coordinated among each other so that the entire mandate is recognized as sensible and feasible by all participants and accepted overall.

The meaning of the word „mandate“, from the Latin noun manus „hand“ and the verb dare „to give“, sums it up. The management hands over part of the leadership.

In the pilot group, development can be expected on a personal and social level. People develop their ability to perceive, their understanding of organizational (specialist) topics, their experiential knowledge of aspects of development and transformation, their sensitivity to language and behaviour.

Pilot groups often become a model for the desired transformation. In the pilot group, practices and forms of collaboration are cultivated that are often desirable for the entire organization and that can be experienced as soon as possible, e.g. in large group formats.

As part of a pilot group meeting, we once asked how the participants experienced their own development and collaboration in the pilot group. Here are some of their comments:

  • „I can contribute a strength and it benefits the circle without anyone thinking I want to play to the fore.“
  • „In 20 years with us, I have never experienced such an exchange at eye level. And I didn’t realize how much I missed it or how much I missed it.“
  • „All of this leads to a significant change in perspective: the places we are in, the methods we use. This leads to life-changing insights. I have developed my patience and humility.“


5. as long-term as necessary and as short-term as possible

If you are planning an organization-wide, complex project, you are certainly not thinking of a meeting cycle of 45-minute conference calls. You need a bit more contact space between the stakeholders and knowledge carriers involved.

„Don’t squeeze an entire day’s program into two hours.“

Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff

Just as you shouldn’t squeeze a day’s program into two hours, you shouldn’t complete a complex change project „on the side“. Ask yourself and others the question of priority. If many other things (e.g. in your regular work) are more important and more urgent than generative work on the system itself (e.g. an organization), then you should take this seriously. Perhaps you choose a different time, a different approach or level down the goals to a feasible level „on the side“. Or you say to yourself: You don’t have time. You take your time.

You will need extensive (meeting) time and face-to-face contact at various levels for complex projects and „real“ transformation. You need direct, undisguised contact with people who start together, gain trust and gradually share their knowledge and points of view (before they liquefy them again and develop an „us“).

These are often people who, despite multiple negative experiences with processes of this kind, set off again and still get involved again. Strengthen and reward this commitment with a well thought-out and plausible overall process: with a clear mandate, realistic framework conditions and pre-agreed, committed resources.

Whenever members of an organization or a social system (e.g. school, administration, politics, international cooperation, civil society) come together to shape the future together, refrain from social experiments and rely on solid craftsmanship and a resilient theory of change.

Those who rely on co-creation and multi-perspectivity are often confronted with the argument that this approach takes too much time and can lead to complexity. Our clients also sometimes become impatient. At the same time, however, they experience how quickly even seemingly surprising decisions can be made, which are then comprehensible throughout the relevant system. This is often the result of a joint exploration and the occasionally magical experience of emergence, when solutions suddenly appear and decisions crystallize all at once.

Conclusion and praise

For us Kommunikationslotsen, these five rules are a condensation of over 25 years of practice with dialog and participation processes. They are not a recipe for success, but they can be successfully introduced and implemented, especially if you adapt them to the situation and combine them with a little organizational and people skill!

Sources of our facilitation work (selection): Marvin Weisbord & Sandra Janoff, Kathleen Dannemiller, Ed Schein, Harrison Owen, Roger Schwarz, M. Scott Peck, Jim Rough, Rosa Zubizarreta, David Bohm, Humberto Maturana, David Cooperrider, Gisela Wendling, David Sibbet, Alan Briskin, Amy Lenzo, Mary Alice Arthur, Christina Baldwin, Ann Linnea, Otto Scharmer, Gunther Schmidt, Klaus Eidenschink, Judith Muster and our colleagues at the IAF (International Association of Facilitators). You can find more about this in our book „Facilitation – dialog- and action-oriented organizational development.“, Scholz/Vesper, Vahlen 2022.