The UK and Europe is in the process of going through a divorce. Everywhere you read at the moment there seems to be conflict, confusion, dissident and mud slinging. Both between and within the UK and EU. There seems still to be a sense that the UK might actually never leave the EU. Within the UK, we are asking ourselves questions like: What if we stayed in? Did we really know what we signed up for? Is this what we want?

The vote has been cast, a decision has been made. Its true that it could be altered and we could revert back to what was, in some way, although the reality is that the change has happened, regardless of what the final outcomes may be in practical reality. The impact is already showing itself in how people living in the UK feel about BREXIT whilst trying to predict their unknown futures. Do we know what would happen if we stayed in? Do we know what will happen when we leave? Either way it seems a lot of time and energy is focused on trying to pre-empt what will actually happen, with no real way of truly knowing what the outcomes will be.

 We are in transition, whether we like it or not. And despite how much we want to see a clear pathway, in reality the only way forward is to take a step into the unknown. Dimensions of the unknown, that don’t feel safe, where we are challenged to let go of what was. Some of us are looking to what we had, asking: What if we stayed? What if we didn’t go on this journey? Others are looking to the future questioning: What will we get from this? Will it be worth it? It seems there is a push/pull tension between focusing on the risks and the rewards. Its as if we are fixed in two mindsets. One mindset wanting to control, stay put and feel safe, and one wanting to grow and take advantage of the potential and opportunities that an unknown future holds. 

Our research has revealed that it is normal to experience transitions in this way. Being confused is all part of the journey. Transitions are challenging, often leading to us splitting with ourselves on the inside, with the relationships we have with others and our environments on the outside. Parts of us want the status quo, which is known and comfortable and other parts of us want to experience a new/different and better future. 

Our experiences in Transition Dynamics, is that internal and external experiences of splitting and confusion, and disorientation are all part of the course. In practice splitting is the sharp edge that makes change and transformation challenging, for individuals, teams and entire organisations. Initiating transformation agendas and creating journeys that have unclear ambiguous pathways. Whilst change strategies make sense on paper, they can often present a very different experience for organisations when they try to implement them. Requiring leaders and their workforces to find the courage to take leaps of faith, that their efforts will achieve desired results. How can they know for sure what is the right pathway to take and/or if they will achieve their aspirations and successful outcomes? 

We often see in organisations, that once they have made the decision to step into the unknown, they find that the change agenda is not gaining outcomes in line with expectations. That they are not getting the synergies they wanted in the time they expected. Often, jumping from vision and strategy straight into implementation. Then they ask: Why is the transformation not happening quick enough? It is because of what we wrote in our Cultural Transformation case study: It’s about planning and investing time in the transition space. Focusing on stepping into the unknown, discovering the known/unknown dimensions and acquiring new skills and capabilities to navigate the transition journey. It’s about investing time to understand the complexities of the transitional gap between current state and future state. Knowing and accepting that the whole journey, can’t be determined or fixed from the outset, and that many aspects will be emergent over time. 

Here are some key questions that can help with working in the transition space 

  • Objectives – Why is the change important?
  • People – What new capabilities, knowledge and skills will need to be acquired?
  • Technical – What needs to be developed tested and/or adjusted?
  • Complexity – What are the known/unknowns and how are they connected?
  • Focus – What different factors are required to be connected?
  • Approach – What needs to be done to create safety and support for open discussion?
  • Outcome – Who needs to be involved for defining, clarifying and creating the roadmap?
  • Learning – How are you going to capture and apply learning along the way?
  • Support – What additional resources will be needed for our transition journey? 

We have found that asking these questions and seeking input and involvement from others facilitates a different context for change. A practice of ‘working with others’. Deploying a ‘working with’ strategy, leaders report that it’s as thought the “the sands shift”, creating a new collective reality. Facilitating the ability to see opportunities that were hidden and out of sight and the ability to see risks that they didn’t know existed.

The aspect of stepping in to the unknown and deploying a ‘working with strategy’, is the essence of our case study project that just couldn’t deliver. The leaders tried, many different strategies and approaches, and kept getting caught up in their own need for perfection. They were not able to deliver successful outcomes because they wanted to understand and plan a flawless future. They hadn’t factored in multiples dimensions of complexity or how to work with aspects of organisational functioning that were in process of continuous change. Only when they realised they could only do so much, and good enough was good enough, were they able to start building some of the design and work with what they had at any one point in time. They were able to free themselves up to allow others to bring different perspectives and alternative approaches to support delivery of outcomes. They were able to work together, and work with the complexity and ambiguity to create the future together. And this made the leaders, workforce and project successful.

Another focus of our work is to support leaders to work in the present. To appreciate and learn to accept that the present is all they will ever know. To gain insight into the unintended consequences giving too much attention to fear of the future, they risk being unable to let go of the past and successfully create the outcomes they desire.

What we are saying is: 

  • If you try to implement change alone, and you do it whilst looking at the world through your ‘We are at Risk Glasses’ the journey becomes more complex and challenging
  • If instead you put your ‘We will be Successful Glasses’ on and start working with the people around you. Then, complexity can be worked with, the messy aspects of change and transformation can be navigated and you will gain successful outcomes

What we call the ‘using ambiguity as an opportunity to create successful outcomes approach’

Some aspects to keep in mind from an organisational perspective. As we move closer towards BREXIT, and start thinking about physically relocating part of our businesses to the EU, UK, or elsewhere. Are we allowing ourselves the time to consider:

  • What will be required in the new reality? 
  • How to ensure our new operations will function in different sites, stay connected and be effective? 

At this stage, we appreciate that there are many questions without answers. The aspect to keep in mind is that it’s an impossible task to think that they can all be thought through in advance. Especially, when some of the key decisions are yet to be made. Such as, are we really ready to let go of what we have?

Our invitation: Decide, and then step into the unknown future. Set yourself free of the fear of having to have all the answers to go on the journey. Putting energy into engaging with others and learning along the way.

If you are navigating complex change. We would be happy to speak with you, please contact us here at Transition Dynamics.

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