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How Horses Create Conditions for Successful Organisational Change

Updated: May 15, 2021

It was one of those sunny blustery almost wintery days in May where it was nice in the shelter but arctic- like in the open. The Canterbury southerly that had threatened to land that day held back, allowing us a space for our Salta Horses to do their work with our scheduled corporate team.

Our two horses one a rich brown and the other a golden bronze, gazed across the yards with ears up as a black van made its way down the long drive to our arena. A team of eight people emerged looking both apprehensive and excited about the day ahead. Some were familiar with horses while for others this was a completely new experience.

This team had travelled from all around New Zealand as part of a national organisation. They seldom had a chance to work together and were still in many ways getting to know each other. Our brief for the day was to explore with the team, how to navigate significant strategic changes that were soon to be underway across the organisation.

After inviting everyone to firstly observe the two horses then go in to the arena to meet them. the insights emerged quickly. “The team wondered what it was like for the horse to have someone step into their personal space uninvited. They wondered in turn how their own clients’ experience meeting them as professionals for the first time. They talked about how calm the horses seemed to remain despite the swirling cold wind, the unfamiliar faces and the trees swaying.

They discussed ways that they could stay aware and grounded like the horses regardless of what may be swirling around in their own our personal and professional lives.

In the afternoon, the team were invited to individually create something in the arena that represented the changes that were looming within their organisation.

In no time there were streamers, cones, poles, hoops hats and flags set up all through the arena. The team quietly watched our horses energy shift from calm and relaxed to uncertain and worried as the “organisational change” began to show itself.

We asked what was happening with the horses.” They don’t understand what is going on…..they are spooked by some of the things they see because it’s so unfamiliar and they don’t know what they are supposed to do or how to react.” The team identified that the horses were reflecting how they were feeling collectively about the changes that lay ahead for them.

We explored how the horses could be better supported in navigating those changes . Together this time, the team re worked their creation in the arena by aligning and connecting some of the elements.

The horses slowed to a walk then stood still looking around them. They frequently touched each other for reassurance and took turns leading the way to explore each of the elements in the arena. In the final moments of this session, one of the horses walked up to some “scary” streamers and flapping hats that were blowing in the wind and rested his nose right in there standing calmly and grounded.

So what did our generous, honest horses amplify about creating conditions for successful organisational change:

  • Expect initial uncertainty and concern.

  • Communicate clearly the context relevance and value of the change to minimise confusion.

  • Facilitate connection between team members so they can check in, support each other and nurture wellbeing through changing times.

  • Respect each individual’s pace to explore process and become familiar with new ideas.

  • Create spaces and opportunities for people to question and understand what is to come.

There are plenty of books about change management and while this list is not exhaustive, the learnings meant something to this team on a changeable Canterbury day in May.

National Manager feedback: “Our experience at Salta brought our team together in a way that has never happened before. No PowerPoint and no long boring round in circle discussions. It was totally engaging, action focused and positioned us for the changes we knew were coming. We are still talking about it!

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