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Qualities of successful change

Sarah Willcox

Image of sunlit autumnal leaves illustrating the Fairisle article Qualities of succesful change

What I love about the work that I do is that it keeps me thinking, even when I’m not working.

I read Wilding by Isabella Tree recently. I was struck by the similarities between her re-wilding project and our work.  Even though, on the face of it, the two look very different.  The book describes “the return of nature to a British farm”. It seemed to me that it was describing all the required qualities for a change to succeed.

So what are these qualities?

Trust the process

Isabella Tree refers often to  trusting in the natural processes as her farm moved away from intensive agricultural practices. Likewise, much of the work we do is about setting the conditions for effective change.  This means ensuring processes are in place to support teams effectively as they move into new ways of working.

The real problem

In the case of the farm, it was assumed that yield was down due to out-dated farming methods.  It transpired that this was not in fact the case. We will often find the same. A client will come with a problem they want resolving.   But after some discovery work it becomes clear there is an underlying problem that needs addressing first.


Resistance is often not about the change that is being made, but an expression of dissatisfaction with other challenges.  When writing about resistance from their neighbours, Isabella Tree understands that it may be easier to voice opposition to the rewilding project than tackle the complex and impactful challenges presented by EU bureaucracy or government policy. Similarly, we find resistance comes in many forms and find it helpful to value resistance to change  and discover where it’s coming from and why.

Sometimes, it’s important to not do things

This isn’t easy, but part of leading change effectively is knowing when it is useful to make an intervention.   And when it is more helpful to either ‘sit on your hands’, or look at making a small change.

Be creative when things get difficult

It was only when all other options had been exhausted that Tree considered alternatives to conventional practices. It’s often only when things get really challenging that we become open to possibilities which would have been unthinkable in other circumstances.

There will always be unexpected outcomes

When setting out with the project, Tree describes hoping for ‘a small increase’ in biodiversity.   But the book describes how the project had a range of  unexpected benefits. Again, we’ll start working with a team with one objective in mind and through working together find that other benefits quickly become apparent.

Humility is essential

A willingness to admit you’ve got it wrong, along with an understanding that you don’t have all the answers, will get you further than anything else. Accepting help from others, acknowledging the skill of experts and, in this case, letting nature take its course, all demonstrate exceptional strength.

Here to help

These qualities of successful change are simple to identify. But we also know that embarking on change is not easy. Sometimes it can take a bit of courage, so we’re here to help. Talk to us.