Relationships Before New Wineskins

Integrity Compass


Work On Relationships First!


We know we can’t just stand still. The world around us requires that we adapt to changing conditions and we sometimes struggle to just keep up, much less get ahead of things. Since before the turn of the century, the “new normal” has been described as volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous and sometimes threatening! Our people truly are our greatest asset, especially in a VUCA-T world. To cope, we want to increase collaboration, cooperation, and coordination inside, and between our organizations. We also know our people want to excel and grow their capabilities. We look for those traits when we hire them. Relationships are critically important!



Changing everything all at once is unrealistic, so where do we start? What does the research say? Are there success stories relevant to our organization? What does right look like for us?

Some will recall I wrote in a previous blog post titled Mixing Old With New regarding the principle of not putting new wine into old wineskins; “Mixing old familiar ways with new ideas to address new situations like change, may seem like a good idea, but that might not be the best way. A more thoughtful approach might be better.”

Many of us are in traditional system architectures, work processes, and roles already, so starting where we are is the only realistic place to begin co-creating a new future. Building that future together is required today as no one individual is able to completely comprehend what is happening, much less intervene effectively in sustainable ways. The days of the individual super-hero decision maker are long gone. People need to effectively work together more now than ever before.


People interested in improving their organization’s performance are often relieved to discover that the problems they see are not the result of having hired “bad people.” Naming, blaming, shaming and firing the “bad apple” is not the way to correct dysfunctional momentum in our organizations and eliminates learning opportunities. Many proponents of a New View believe, “Our people are not problems to control, but resources to harness!” Often our people know how things really work well most of the time in spite of the pressures our systems place on them. That knowledge is extremely valuable.


People, Structures and Processes

“The Relational Model of Organizational Change, first developed by Amy Edmondson, Ed Schein, and Jody Hoffer Gittell, proposes that three types of interventions—relational, work process, and structural—are needed to transform role relationships in a positive and sustainable way.”[1]


Organizational structures contribute to siloed knowledge and isolate ideas. Structures can be redesigned to enable collaboration, cooperation, and coordination, but interdependent parts that influence our interaction goals and objectives are prolific!


Processes are the ways we have been doing things, often for years or even decades, and many people feel heavily invested in “how we do things around here!”


Organizational change research indicates that just changing structures or processes are not sufficient, premature, and often counter-productive.


Transforming ourselves first, and our relationships with each other, are alternative places to start that are usually more effective and sustainable. As we build relationships, trust, understanding and confidence in each other emerges. Then we can have those crucial conversations that try to answer very important questions together. Where are we now and where do we want to end up? How do we get there from here?


These relationships are the new, high quality wine that we now need to create the new wineskin containers for. New ways to treat each other, new language and ways to talk with each other, new ways of seeing our possibilities combine to develop our personalized New View Approach. Developing high-functioning work processes and high performance supportive structures require positive working relationships!


Together we can dream, design and develop new systems in a holistic way that appreciates one another, our roles and responsibilities, builds upon our combined strengths and co-constructs ways to move forward out of outdated structures and processes.


Become Informed

Beginning with eventual collaboration in mind, we can start immediately to manage our mindsets. Make time to think about our intentions, what is actually capturing our attention, and what assumptions we are making along the way. Look at our normal workin a thoughtful way. We don’t have to wait for things to go wrong to learn. There are many more learning opportunities in what we do together every day when things mostly go right!


Study what the policies, rules and guidelines say and why. Then, along with others, really attempt to capture how things actually work and why. Continually scan what is really happening. What conditions are in play that require people to adjust their activities to meet dynamic demands? Try to understand what is actually happening and why before you start changing structures or processes. This is a reluctance to simplifyand sensitivity to operationsthat help people see problems coming before they get big and difficult to solve. Collective awareness is increased so we can anticipate things breaking down beneath the surface. Managing our mindsets is a cultural maturity that begins to make high performance and high reliability possible, especially under varying conditions.


Dialogue Is Key

Our intentions, attentions, and assumptions are real. Try to articulate them in dialogue sessions with coworkers. Ask them in 1-to-1 conversations about what they think, see and perceive to be real. Insure that they feel heard, respected and appreciated. Seek mutual understanding of differences and commonalities, not necessarily consensus on all things right away. Be patient and kind to one another. Agreements and new ways of doing things will emerge eventually from those understandings.


Relational interventionsinclude creating a safe space to reduce the risks associated with trying out new role relationships, then diagnosing current relational patterns to open up a dialogue, learning among participants, supported by coaching and the role modeling of positive relational behaviors by leaders and change agents throughout the organization. Work process interventionsinclude the use of process mapping, role and goal clarification, and structured problem solving to support changes in the work itself. Structural interventionsinclude the implementation of cross-cutting organizational structures to hardwire the new teamwork dynamics into roles, to achieve sustainability. The Relational Model of Organizational Change illustrates how these three types of interventions together can transform the dynamics of relational coordination, relational coproduction, and relational leadership, thus increasing the capacity of organizations to meet the performance pressures they are facing.”[2]


Seek Positive Relationship Examples

Co-constructing new ways of going on together are very possible. Others have done it. Search them out in your area of endeavor. Look across at other domains experiencing positive change. Learn from their successes. Read up on them. Introduce yourself to people in those organizations and ask them for their stories. “How did it happen? How did you get started? How have you seen return on those investments in each other?


Build efficacy throughout your relationships from the success stories of others that do similar work. An attitude of “We can too!” will eventually emerge in your organization.


[1]Hoffer Gittell, Jody. Transforming Relationships for High Performance: The Power of Relational Coordination (p. 91). Stanford University Press. Kindle Edition.


[2]Hoffer Gittell, Jody. Transforming Relationships for High Performance: The Power of Relational Coordination (pp. 93-94). Stanford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Article by: David A. Christenson, MA, MSc, Ph.D. Candidate
CEO and Founder, Christenson & Associates, LLC
DBA Organizing For Resilience