How do you show respect and collect learning when involved in organisational change?

Benjamin P. Taylor
4 min readOct 13, 2021


This is a small workshop exercise I call ‘the timeline of respect’.
(It can be done online as well).

We ask everyone to line up in order of the number of years of relevant experience — making the point that the old hands have seen a lot and have a lot of expertise, and the newer people usually have fresh perspectives and insight (but that it might be vice versa).

Then, together, we map the history of change in their area, right back as far as we can do — with a lot of emphasis on recent years, and some space for fears and possibilities for the future.

As we go, we note what were good, successful, well-handled examples of change — and which were not.

We then harvest the stories -

> what was GOOD about change in the past, that we can lean from?

> when was change mishandled in the past, so we DON’T do it again?

> what are the key themes?

Below I share the workshop approach

I’ve found it a nice way to get to know a group and set the scene for some mutual frankness. I think it only works if you do, genuinely, respect them and their experience.

What are your favourite exercises that help with this kind of thing?

Workshop outline:

The timeline of respect
An exercise for respect, learning, and change

First, ask everyone in the room to organise themselves in a single line,
in order of number of years’ experience in the relevant service or area — tell them you aren’t fussy about definitions… and emphasise that this
is not about age, but experience.

Then do a quick ‘scan’ of the line from the most experienced to the ‘newest’, hearing when they started (and in what role!), and emphasising that the most experienced have a lot to teach, and the newest have a fresh perspective to offer. I usually do a rough calculation — ‘so, we have around 500 years’ experience in this subject from which to draw… we should do OK then!’

Unroll a long sheet of brown paper on the floor, and draw a line down the middle of the whole length of it. Ask for a very ancient starting date — e.g. for libraries, could be the Library of Alexandria, or the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1994. Swiftly divide the line into segments from that starting

point to the present day AND ten years into the future. Make sure the last two years have as much space as the ten before that, and the same for the fourty before that etc — so that the line ‘balloons out’ towards the current day.

Give everyone a pen and post-it pack, and ask them to put down the events that have contributed to us being where we are today, discussing the subject of the workshop… so for a timeline of ‘lean in local government’, it would probably take in all the quality, improvement, VFM, CCT techniques etc etc. Ask everyone to be sure to include their starting date as well! And any changes of leader, politicians etc which are relevant –
also any legislative changes, ICT changes, wider system changes (elections, recession etc etc etc).

They are to put one event per post-it, and locate it at the appropriate date along the timeline.
They also have to categorise how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ the event was — emphasise this is just indicative! ·The ‘better’ the event, the more positive, the more it is something to learn from, the higher above the line it is located. ·The ‘worse’ the event, the more negative, the more it is something from which to earn what not to do, the lower below the line it is located.

I usually ask everyone to spend five minutes in silence jotting down key events and putting them on the line — as always, if you duplicate someone else’s post-it, just stick it on top.
Then I give another ten minutes or so of collaboration and discussion to add to the events.

Then we review the whole timeline, and try to identify ‘the five good things to learn from’ and ‘the five bad things to NOT do again’, and any key themes, to take forward into the work at hand.

This entire exercise is designed to show that you respect their knowledge and experience and want to learn from it and from the past in general.