“Ever squeezed a wonky table tennis ball?”



That was the question I was asked by one of the most pragmatic internal change agents I’ve met, while I was running a so-called” transformation masterclass” recently


“You see, if the ping pong ball gets damaged, if you use force to restore it, as you apply pressure in one area, all it does is pop out in another. So, what you need to do instead is float it in a beaker of hot water. This subtler action equalises the force on the system and, with any luck, it re-forms, like magic “


An odd but actually a great analogy.. come to think of it, it’s the very reason why our organisation development transformation system, (the Mosaic magic) has seven parts, or stations and why we always analyse transformation challenges from each of these points.


When the organisation’s culture has been bent or bashed out of shape by a series of incidents or the more subtly relentless forces of change (as every culture does, from time to time), blunt trauma solutions never work (like single events or passionate speeches). The only sustainable solution is to develop a transformation programme that slowly heats up or energises the environment on several fronts at once and if this is achieved, systematically, it gradually assumes the right shape.

In true hero’s change journey style. it’s most effective to start with the what, by crafting or reiterating an inspiring purpose, vision, value-set and transformation strategy. Positioning the colleague life-cycle from attraction through to departure in this context is a real opportunity to differentiate the brand and reassure as well as engage. So (top tip) do make sure that your communications colleagues are in the camp of champions.

The bulk of the work (the how, when and where) comes next, namely designing the culture development initiatives that will unite and focus the key change community, the first line managers. 

Then, most importantly, back up the supportive words and intentions with intense but persistent leadership development. Coaching and mentoring of the most important influencers, equips them to take accountability (it’s what they’re paid for after all) and to be the change you need to see.

This may sound like common sense for those with the tender touch and emotional intelligence. But in our experience, systemic sense like this is far from common in the board room where cost and margin dominates the agenda, making the role of the internal change agent far from easy. Oddly, the fact that costs mount and margin disappears in the face of disengaged, tired and subversive colleagues, seldom gets a mention when the monthly beans are being counted (but that’s a tale for another day). 


The person at the center of this particular story was attending the workshop because, by their own admittance, they had been bent out of shape by the relentless pressure of trying to apply this logical approach in an environment that persistently put people investment last. For a while, they had given up hope and had fallen into the trap of following the cynics down the energy drains.

It happens to us all, at times. But when the pressure builds, the answer’s usually the same:


  1. > Firstly run towards the challenges in the dark cave (it’s where the greatest gains are to be found)
  2. > Secondly, embrace the negative feedback from stakeholders, fold it into a deliberate strategy and plan and use the energy to re-shape and bounce back. 

It does seem counter-intuitive to reach for the boiling water when the culture is wonky. 


But remember the table-tennis analogy and use the balance of the force.


So – Ping pong anyone?