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  • Writer's pictureAlannah Filip

Liminality – How to harness a change project

Many times, people rush to reach the end of a project, whether it's a finished workplace or a complete office move. Yet, there is so much value in the journey and the in-between stages. During these phases, changes and behaviours can be cemented, people can be brought closer together, and valuable insights about the organisation can be gleaned.


“Liminality is a quality of being in between two places or stages, on the verge of transitioning to something new.” - vocabulary.com

 

In the ever-evolving landscape of the workplace, change is the only constant. The process of change is a dynamic force that swoops in like a tornado, rearranging everything in its path. Often, we tend to focus on these external events and their impact on our surroundings (like a new office or working policy), much like the aftermath of a storm. Yet the true development unfolds in the psychological processes we undergo in response to these external forces. To understand these processes, we must distinguish between change and transition.

 

Whereas change represents the observable event, transition operates behind the scenes, shaping our inner landscape. This transition phase can be explored through the concept of liminality.

 

Liminality, the Threshold of Transformation

Rooted in anthropology and derived from the Latin word "limen," meaning threshold, liminality characterises the psychological journey individuals undertake during times of change. It represents the in-between stages, where we navigate the shift from the familiar to the uncertain. Just as the eye of the storm offers a moment of calm within chaos, liminality provides a space for transition and transformation amid upheaval.

 

Originally coined by anthropologist Arnold van Gennep and further developed by Victor Turner, liminality has been primarily associated with cultural and ritual contexts. However, its relevance extends far beyond ceremonial rites to encompass various aspects of human experience, including the workplace.


In the corporate landscape, organisational change often triggers periods of liminality. Whether there’s a global pandemic or organisational restructuring, these periods are inherently disruptive and unsettling, where the old rules no longer apply, and the new ones are yet to be established.

 

Yet while there may be apparent chaos, liminal times are where the magic unfolds, and fundamental change takes root. Think of it as a metamorphosis, where the caterpillar doesn't quite fit its old self but hasn't fully embraced its wings. The challenges faced in these uncertain periods serve as fertile grounds for growth, reflection, and the formation of new patterns.

 

Why liminality offers a fresh perspective

While significant change may act as the catalyst for liminality, it’s through delving into the deeper layers of the organisation during transitional moments, that we unearth invaluable insights.

 

Consider a conventional office move, where our attention often gravitates towards the practicalities: the logistics, the physical setup, and the adaptation of behaviours and processes. Yet, amidst this flurry of activity, it challenges us to embrace vulnerability and ambiguity, paving the way for the disruption of ingrained behaviours, and the possibility of profound transformation beyond physical changes.



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