The Juggling Metaphor

27 June 2007 1 By Viv McWaters

Everybody knows about the juggling metaphor – well, I think they do anyway – you know, keeping all the balls in the air, juggling work-life balance etc. And I think there are other uses for juggling in exploring organisational concepts. As a keen juggler I’m always looking for ways to incorporate a spot of juggling into my workshops. The challenge, of course, is to make it relevant AND intentional. Here’s an example.

Recently I was facilitating a workshop with senior managers of an organisation undergoing significant cultural change. I introduced them to a frameowrk for change based on the phases of





This model also explores the leadership responses that are appropriate for each phase. So at the denial phase the respones is to communicate, communicate, communicate; at the resistance phase the response is to listen, listen, listen; at the experimentation phase, the response is encourage, encourage, encourage; and at the adaptation phase, describe a vision of the future.

All very well so far, but a bit theoretical. How to explore? So I introduced them to juggling – 3 ball juggling – and described, and demonstrated the steps to doing this. Then I put them in pairs with the instructions that one person was to practice juggling for 5 minutes while the other person provided encouragement and support AND picked up the dropped juggling balls. After 5 minutes they swapped roles.

In the debrief we asked how people responded to the challenge of learning to juggle. Some answered that they thought to themselves “I could never do this” (denial); others described thoughts of “It’s too hard” (resistance) – and the pennies dropped.They experienced the whole model of resistance to change and the power of leadership all within the frame of the juggling activity.