Why you don’t do karate in the boardroom

In order to alter the culture in an organisation, or the attitude of an individual in your team, change has to happen at a profound level. In our long experience, it is pointless foisting company values on an organisation that has had no part in their creation. It is also pointless teaching ‘tips and techniques’ to an individual who genuinely thinks the only way to get any work out of their team is to scare them all.

If it doesn’t happen at a profound level, the change in behaviour simply won’t stick. The member of your team who is intimidating people may ‘try’ a different approach if you draw attention to the problem. But as soon as a few weeks have passed, or there’s pressure in their job, they will default to their old ways.

So if you recognise that there is a need for change in the culture of your organisation or your team, how do you sort it out? How do you get them to show initiative, share leads, be accountable, stop treating the support staff as second-class citizens, or indeed get the support staff to really support their internal clients?

The difficulty is to find a way to affect permanent change that strikes the right balance between challenging current thinking, without scaring your fundamentally conservative staff.

A few years ago I was invited by a CEO to be present at a pitch by a company that specialised in large scale transformation. We sat around a very formal boardroom table as they filed in to do their presentation. We noticed that one of the account managers was carrying a piece of wood about 10 cm square. Everyone eyed it suspiciously. To cut a long story short, by the end of that presentation the CEO’s obliging PA had been volunteered to tell us all her ‘limiting beliefs’. These were then written in marker pen on the piece of wood and she was invited to karate chop the wood in order to break through her barriers. She managed it on the third attempt, by which time we had all sunk low in our chairs while the CEO was busying himself making coffee for everyone.

For me, that incident demonstrated again that there’s a time and a place and a catalyst for transformation and if you get it wrong, all you will get is resistance.

If people are ready, then it can change them forever, consider the thousands who have done the fire walk at Tony Robbins events. But they have chosen to be there, and the fire walk is the culmination of two days of intensive motivational speaking and participation.

We’ve learnt over the years that the best way to create change in leaders, managers and teams is to challenge their behaviour and their thinking just enough for it to be a bit uncomfortable. But we are always mindful of who the client is, and for clients in professional services you cannot take too many risks. This is why our work is founded on helping clients deal with the real life professional challenges that they face, encouraging and coaching them to have a different perspective and approach. What this means is that there’s no jargon, no silly games, no role play and most definitely no karate in the boardroom.