Managing Transitions

growth transition Feb 14, 2020

“It isn't the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.” — W. Bridges* 

Change is situational and transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation (according to W. Bridges). Unless transition occurs, change will not work. 

“There can be any number of changes, but unless there are transitions, nothing will be different when the dust clears.” — W. Bridges

We see this in our personal lives and in the congregations we serve. 

The three stages in transition

Transition begins with an ending, moves into the neutral zone, then enters into a new beginning phase.  

1. An ending 

Transition begins with an ending and a letting go. Israelite's were given the opportunity to let go of Egypt as the first step in their transitional journey to the Promised Land. Their ending involved a radical event and was the intervention strategy God used to launch them on their journey towards a better future. 

2. The neutral zone

After the letting go comes the neutral zone or wilderness. This is no-man’s-land between the old reality and the new. It is when the old way is viewed through the rear-view mirror. What’s coming is not yet realized. Understanding this neutral zone is a powerful gift for those confused by change or in a rush to get through it.  

“It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear...It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer.  There’s nothing to hold on to.” — Marilyn Ferguson 

3. The new beginning

After the letting go and the neutral zone comes the new beginning. A healthy and robust new beginning occurs when both an ending and a neutral zone have been embraced. The timing of the new beginning is like the timing of a flower coming to full bloom. If forced, transition stalls. At the right moment, however, the new beginning is a beautiful thing. 

Seeing the new beginning before you get there

There is a definite advantage to help people see the new beginning before they get there. Bridges suggests four ways to prepare the ground for a new beginning before it actually arrives: 

  • Explain the purpose behind the outcome you seek
  • Paint a picture of how the outcome will look and feel
  • Lay out a step-by-step plan for phasing in the outcome
  • Give each person a part to play in both the plan and the outcome  

Moses, as a transitional leader, not only painted a picture of a land flowing with milk and honey but gave God’s people a step-by-step plan to get there. He taught them new ways to worship, believe and behave. He gave them a template that helped prepare them for life in the Promised Land. 

When people want a quick fix to some change that has come upon them, it’s important to patiently travel through the phases of transition. To jump from an ending to a new beginning is too great a leap. 

“It doesn't work to leap a twenty-foot chasm in two ten-foot jumps.” — American Proverb

Reflect on this question

What part of the transition process is most difficult for you personally? For those you are working with?

*Check out (or reread) William Bridges book, Managing Transitions - Making the Most of Change


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