January 21, 2018

An intervention needs to be an intervention

Group in discussion at computerIt takes a certain intensity to make something different happen. Merely exposing people to new ideas probably isn’t going to be enough if the hoped-for change is in any way an uncomfortable or unfamiliar one—the issue could be out of conscious awareness apart from anything else.

So we need someone to show us how the learning connects with us—how it applies.

Sending people on courses will only take things so far.

For an intervention to be an intervention, somebody needs to intervene. There needs to be a change agent—someone who can deliver help to the system from outside, as W. Edwards Deming might have put it, because “a system is not capable of understanding itself.”

Somebody needs to be close enough to say “this is how the issue applies to you and here’s what you need to do.”

Interventions need an intervener.

An engine needs a mechanic

Maintainer examining a jet engine rotorPeople on the outside of an organization have the freedom and perspective to see and articulate what’s going on in the inside. They’re not part of the system; they’re not constrained by the responsibilities of office; they’re not invested in the status quo.

If wise, they cherish their freedom and use it wisely.

The system, and those in the system, need those on the outside to take an interest; to express what they see; and, yes, to intervene at times.

Just as an engine needs the mechanic…

The system needs the intervener.

Is “tribal” behavior at work in your world?

Team supportersWe all belong to clusters of people with something in common: values, beliefs, aims, norms of behavior, and more. We could call these clusters “tribes,” and in fact, we belong to lots of them—families, friendship groups, workplaces, supporters of teams, members of on-line groups, and many more. Some exist in our face-to-face world, others are less tangible but just as real.

The need to belong is part of our human wiring—a deep-seated brain function. Prehistorically, if we didn’t belong to a group, we wouldn’t survive.


People behave in particular ways because they want to belong. They want to fit in. In fact, some also want to define themselves as against something else—some other tribe. That’s psychologically comfortable, if not very resourceful.

Here’s the thing…

In many situations, tribal behavior will be a powerful force, quite likely much more powerful than the explicit authority structures.

Tread warily when intervening. If you don’t understand the tribes in the game and the tribal behavior at work, you’re heading for a rough time. Take note of it and use it for good effect and you will harness a powerful force.

What unnoticed tribal behavior might be influencing your world?