Transformation – from caterpillar to butterfly


When the first cells emerge within the caterpillar that induce the transformation to the butterfly, they are massively attacked and destroyed by the caterpillar’s own immune system. Only when a sufficient number of these precursor cells are finally able to interconnect does the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly occur. A similar pattern can be observed for transformation processes in organizations.


Two types of changes


In working with organizations, we have observed two different types of changes.

The classic change or development – we call this type of change “Change I” – can be planned. The solution(s) are apparent for everyone involved, and it is possible to work towards implementing the change. Changes of this kind also trigger emotions and resistance; however, for the persons managing the change the path and the solution are always visible.
An example for this type of change is the restructuring of a business unit or division.

The second type of change cannot be planned, nor is a solution apparent for the people inside the organization. On the contrary, often the prevailing view within the organization is: “We are already giving everything, and it is still not enough. More is not possible!” We call this type of change “Organizational Transformation” or “Change II”. This type of change resembles the metamorphosis of the caterpillar to butterfly that we can observe in nature.

The transformation barrier

Organizations can successfully change and develop over many years, until they reach a transformation barrier. Suddenly, the long-standing success patterns and strategies no longer work. The strengths that once made the company successful cease to be effective.

When approaching a transformation barrier, the people within an organization try to drive the company forward in different ways. Often, existing strategies and success patterns are reinforced and accelerated. Like a carpenter who only uses the hammer as a tool, employees and management try to master the new challenges by ever faster and stronger hammering, even when these challenges have long ceased to be “nails”. This triggers a great number of uncoordinated activities. Each individual and each company division tries in their own way to propel the organization forward. Some people go into hiding and try to ignore reality. Since this does not work, frustration levels rise and a search for culprits starts. More and more, a feeling of impotence and “more is not possible” is spreading. The organization is in danger of burning out. At the transformation barrier, the people inside the organization are unable to imagine how the organization will be able to function successfully in order to vigorously master future challenges.


Understanding and recognizing transformation

The first step towards organizational transformation is to recognize that the organization has reached a transformation barrier and to detect the emerging patterns, such as acceleration, chaotic activity, and scapegoating, among others. The people within the organization recognize that they cannot go on in the old tried and tested manner. At the same time, they accept the hypothesis that a new and different way of successfully performing in the future is possible, even if they cannot imagine this new way of operating yet.


Facilitating transformation

In order to facilitate transformation, the following four elements are necessary:

  • Freeing energies and connecting to fundamental strengths
  • Ensuring a common direction
  • Initiating a spirit of discovery
  • Incremental learning cycles.

These elements are part of what we call the “Human Interaction Operating System”, or “HIOS”. The continual development or renewal of this Operating System is the most important lever for a successful transformation.

The biggest obstacle on the way to a successful transformation is lack of energy. Often, destructive processes such as scapegoating are already manifest within the organization at the time when the transformation barrier is approached. They have to be decisively stopped and completely banned by management. At the same time, a dialogue has to be started with all employees on how to adapt the strengths that have made the company successful over many years, in order to meet and overcome the challenges ahead. An exchange about these challenges and the changes in the business environment should start, and a vision for the organization that is attractive to all should be discussed.

The aim in this phase is to develop new options, explore other possibilities, collect new perspectives (internally and externally), and to go into a prototyping mode of trying out, reviewing, changing and trying out again. Instead of aiming to find the optimal solution on the first try, a number of quick learning cycles should be implemented.

Step by step, a new way of functioning for the organization will become apparent. Much like the cells in the caterpillar, in the beginning only isolated individuals and groups emerge, which are attacked by the old system until they grow in number, start to interconnect and suddenly multiply explosively. This is when transformation occurs. A new organization emerges that operates in a new and different way, one that the people within the organization could not have imagined before the transformation took place.


Transformation competence

Many organizations experience increasingly rapid and sudden changes in their environment and often encounter surprising new and formidable challenges. These organizations are in need of transformation competence. Employees must be able to recognize a transformation barrier, to understand the concept of transformation and to know how to facilitate transformation.


Food for thought

What challenges is your organization faced with today?
Are you observing symptoms that indicate the emergence of a transformation barrier?
How well positioned is your Human Interaction Operating System in order to facilitate transformation?

We are happy to support you in the process of transforming your organization.
Please contact us.


Further information on the topic can be found in the article "Transformation braucht innere Metamorphose".