How to have a Happy Ending

On the last day of this year, I’ve been reflecting on the number of ‘endings’ I’ve experienced lately. My life, so well arranged just a couple of months ago, feels like it’s been kicked up in the air.

I’m still waiting to see where all the pieces will land.

Managing Change

Working as a change manager, it does pique my professional curiosity though. It’s useful for me to be conscious of how it feels to transition; from an ending, through the ‘it’s all in the air’ stage, and at last to the point where the pieces, whilst not perfectly arranged, are at least visible again.

Knowing how it feels, and what we can do to help ourselves and others, is so important to managing change well. We all know that change can be hard, but in our super-paced world we’re having to get used to it happening. A lot.

Today, I’ve been revisiting the ‘adjourning’ stage of Tuckman’s model of group development and Bridges’ transition model for some guidance.

Tuckman’s Adjourning

Tuckman added the adjourning (or mourning) stage to his model of group development in 1977. Before then the model suggested that a group will move through four stages as they get to know one another, learn to work well together, and eventually reach peak performance. The fifth, adjourning, stage was added to include what happens as a group finishes its work and disbands.

Having reached the near-end of a programme at work, I’ve been shifted to another which is just beginning. I have to say, I’ve found it tougher than expected. It isn’t easy to let go and move on when the team has been great to work with. I do feel a sense of loss.

Bridging the Transition

Bridges’ transition model focusses on how we go through a change at a personal, internal level. Bridges’ points out that a change can be sudden – black and white – one day you’re in one team, the next, another. Transition on the other hand can be much slower. How we respond at the personal level to a sudden change, is much more a process of adaptation: ending, losing and letting go; the neutral zone; and the new beginning.

Put Simply

A simple way to explain it is by looking at what can happen if you’ve ever been forced to move home. On moving day you might have taken a last look around each room, remembering what happened there, taking photos, saying goodbye. Once in the new home, you might have felt that you were in someone else’s house. You don’t know where your saucepans go, and it just doesn’t feel like home. But soon enough, you’ve arranged the cupboards, put up your curtains, and after a while; it’s yours.

Tips for Happy Endings

So as the old year passes, here are some tips for dealing with endings from Tuckman and Bridges:

1. Allow time to accept the change

Whilst change can be fast, transition can be slow. Allow yourself time. Take a look at the change curve to remind yourself it is a process, a journey. And it is normal to feel it.

2. Talk it through

Find someone you know that you can talk to openly about your feelings. If you are helping someone else, actively listen, and be empathetic. Don’t try to rush them to move on before they are ready.

3. Acknowledge the loss

Identify exactly what you will be losing. Perhaps it’s the companionship and trust of close working relationships, your old desk, or some of your status. Understanding what’s been lost will help you adjust and maybe even find ways of compensating for them.

4. Mark the ending and recognise accomplishments

Taking time to mark the ending is important in gaining closure. How you mark it is up to you. Maybe you are one for a night out or a meal, or how about a mini-awards ceremony or a year book? When an office I was working in closed, I took a very scraggly looking, neglected plant with me. It’s now thriving in my dining room and has become not just a reminder of my time there, but a symbol of new growth and possibilities.

How about you? How do you help yourself and others through endings? I’d love to hear your ideas.