Understanding what we mean by interventions

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —June 15, 2006
Filed in Collaboration, Communication

Projects designed to improve things typically start by describing the desired result (behaviours, performance measures, work systems) closely followed by depicting the current situation. The change team then works out the steps to close the gap. This approach assumes things don’t change from the time you start and the time you finish AND you can predict what will happen when you start the change process. Sometimes this is true.

There are plenty of companies who use the above approach. We have an alternative. Imagine if you could engage your staff in designing small interventions that they could implement themselves without a massive corporate programme. The biggest challenge in helping people design interventions is to get them to think small. Here’s one example to illustrate what I mean.

This company practices hot-desking and they noticed there were very few conversations among people while they were at their desks. Staff morale was also low. On a typical day people would grab a seat automatically allocated to them resulting in many people siting next to strangers. The intervention involved providing each employee with a name plate (most interventions I’ve seen come with the exclamation, ‘no kidding!’) they could slide into their cubicle. The simple idea was that if people knew who they were sitting next to they might introduce themselves. After implementing the intervention it was noticed that adjacent colleagues started using the online staff directory to see what part of the organisation their neighbours were from and discovered things in common. Over time new connections were made and people started to self organise arranging for groups to sit together.

Mark described another example of an intervention here.

The process we use to design interventions is simple. We spend the first half a day with 10–100 people working with stories collected in the organisation to identify the themes contained in the narrative and the minds of the people assembled on the day. The second half of the day is devoted to designing interventions to address these themes. People then volunteer to implement the interventions, or find others who can implement them.

Over the next few weeks I will share the exact process we use and would love to hear your thoughts. Of course it’s changing all the time so if you are reading this post 6 months after I posted assume the principles remained intact and the rest changed.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Small interventions

    I liked the point Shawn at Anecdote makes here about the power of small interventions, and this example:This company practices hot-desking and they noticed there were very few conversations among people while they were at their desks. Staff morale was…

  2. Buckminster Fuller was an advocate for the concept of the trim-tab, a small piece that is easier to move than a larger piece, but has a powerful influence, originally part of a rudder, but in Bucky’s parlance it became a way to think about what the individual could do that could impact the larger world around them.

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