You resist, he or she resists, they resist…

During any Agile transition to an Agile approach, the verb ‘to resist’ is commonly being used and often conjugate in the present tense.

Over time, the famous notion of “resistance to change” appeared. It is known by all managers and consultants in organizational development.

All sorts of techniques and tactics exist to try to crush this resistance. Unfortunately, more or less are efficient over time. And if they are efficient, is it worth the cost?

Did you notice, as I did, that resistance is often someone else’s business?

The first-person singular does not exist when conjugating “resist to change”. However, most of the time, the source of resistance is closer than expected. In fact, it is in all of us, within the capacity of our brain to protect us from anything that is perceived as a threat to our well-being.

Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey named this resistance “immunity to change”.

We uncovered a phenomenon we call “the immunity to change”, a heretofore hidden dynamic that actively (and brilliantly) prevents us from changing because of its devotion to preserving our existing way of making meaning.

In organizations, change is often perceived as a threat since it challenges our way of perceiving the world, which creates a perception of danger or threat, thus of potential suffering in the “new” world that is proposed to us.

Good news:

  1. It is no longer necessary to try to change others since the key is within every one of us.
  2. It is possible to overcome resistance to change, i.e. immunity to change.

To do so, organizationally, it is preferable to avoid the machine logic. In our businesses, individuals, teams, and organizations are often seen as machines, i.e. denude of emotions and beliefs. We are trying to maximize the machinery.

Human beings and, by extension, the teams and organizations they constitute have incredible but fragile brain power. For instance, whether you like it or not, all individuals in your team or organization have a past, emotions, as well as beliefs that are part of them. Nobody can leave their emotions and beliefs at the door of the office in the morning and take them back at night when they leave. Therefore, it is important to consider the uniqueness of each person while taking into account various components such as skills without forgetting that the psychological component is also part of all individuals.

Then what is “immunity to change”?

Immunity to change is made up of fundamental beliefs that are unconscious and that we develop during our life, particularly during the first part of it, in order to protect ourselves from events perceived as dangerous. When they occur, these events are challenging the person we believe we are and they are causing great frustration or deep pain. It is the kind of event which makes us promise ourselves: “never again!”, “I’ll never get humiliated this way again!” It is after these events that we develop elaborate protection strategies as well as deep beliefs that shape the way we perceive our environment. Later, as soon as we detect a danger that we unconsciously associate with events of the same type experienced in the past, our fundamental belief, which is unconscious, is enabled in order to avoid suffering the way we then did. And today, the pain is often more anticipated than real. It is that unconscious fundamental belief which prevents us from changing, be it a professional or personal change.

Imagine a manager who must go from a control-based management approach to an approach based on great delegation when he changes jobs. Even though he took all courses on delegation and masters all the techniques, he just cannot do it. He remains a control freak until he discovers, during an “Immunity to change” workshop, that for him delegating is associated with the following belief: “I deeply believe that if I do not handle the records myself, I will be perceived as lazy and incompetent. I’ll be nothing. I’ll be nobody.”

Thus, each time he tries to delegate, without even being conscious of it, the pain of feeling incompetent reappears, annihilating all sincere efforts to change his behaviour.

This year, did you make resolutions that you dropped after two weeks? During your annual performance evaluation, were you asked, again, to change a specific behaviour? In fact, you sincerely tried to change this behaviour by deploying great efforts, but without success…

Then, maybe it is time to explore your hidden beliefs?

In another blogpost, I will present a way to overcome your “immunity to change”.

You can also take part in a workshop in which my colleagues François and Hélène and myself can guide you through this approach.

Tremeur Balbous

Tremeur is a senior consultant at Pyxis Suisse ( More specifically, he is an experienced Scrum Master, a certified Integral Coach® and an Immunity to ChangeTM facilitator. He leads Agile transformations using Scrum. He works with teams of various sizes and from various locations. Furthermore, he coaches managers as well as executive committees. Contact him; he would love to share his passion for Agility and human development with you.

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