Being transient has interested me more and more pre-and now mid-pandemic.

From Merriam-Webster online dictionary

Passing quickly into and out of existence. A brief stay or that most elegant of words a sojourn.

In a life sense, passing through a place with only that brief stay explains how we are transient through many phases of our lives. In and out of education, circles of friends, romantic intertwinements and of course, where we might live and work. Some of us are super transient, others much less so.

Even within (life but particularly) work, we are transient in teams, nature of work, place, projects and so on. Projects, in particular, are conceived, designed, activated, and then disappear. Disappear either into a failed attempt or some shift in how we work, what products and services we create and deliver.

Indeed, perhaps all work is transient? Even say, as a nurse, a welder or a lawyer for your entire life, patients come and go, building projects start and end and cases commence and are closed. You may think you’re “just” being a nurse, welder or lawyer, but your entire workload is of some degree of transience.

Relationships within work are also transient. How many of us are with the same team of people compared to 18, 36 or 72 months ago?

How many of us have been in a peak, high-performing role that then is over-stretched, or devoid of challenges or adjusted to become less stimulating? And therefore our experience of high-performance felt like a fleeting period that now suffers from transience into something more mundane, complex and frustrating or even toxic and miserable.

I suppose my hypothesis on transcience is the old chestnut of “People resist change.” Or “People resist being changed”. I don’t think that is really at the heart of it at all, although there is probably a lot in both of these statements, observations or opinions.

I think it’s this about change in particular and work change more specifically: Our denial — or inability — to accept transience as a norm.

Perhaps our inbuilt safety mechanisms are safety comes from certainty, repeatability, familiarity. And things that are transient aren’t that. They come and go, appear and disappear. So we create an illusion of non-transience. Of steady, stable, static things about us, with us, around us.

I guess my escape/ejection from the corporate world of a job has thrust me into a somewhat transient state. Being an ebb-and-flow freelancer means it’s all about transience. And that people, work, projects, clients, partners, ideas, tools — it all comes and goes.

I’ve also noticed transience in relationships more. Social Media has opened us up to a vast array of contacts and connections. Hence, the resultant more fleeting, causal, come/go types of relationships. I guess the dating apps are also doing that but I’ve no experience or facts on those.

Thereby, I’ve noticed transient brand loyalty too. Open communications on company culture, customer service and more means people will be transient in who they buy from. And of course, open price comparison has made us transient in energy supply, telecoms, insurances etc.

But work — that’s not transient. Except it is. No one steps into the same river twice. No project is the same, no query identical in its causality, approach to resolution and outcome.

The wonderful Cynefin framework gives me a lot to think about and use more regularly as complex, chaotic, complicated states are about and clear, simple states less regular, frequent or even plausible. I think it’s one of the most applicable models/concepts/theories for transience.

Agile and Self-Managed teams are always my thing. So much that some people have become transient in my network because they simply don’t believe in the power in them as I do. C’est la vie.

In Agile, we are saying recognisable ceremonies, processes and rituals but all about built for the transient nature of who’s in the team, their preferences and skills, the nature of the problem, the intensity of the deadline, external factors.

In Organisation Design, the transient nature of stable businesses is put to the test with more adaptable and thereby transient states of organising. Correct transient misalignments, into cohesive flows; that in themselves, are transient as markets, people, demands come and go.

Stelio Verzera perhaps captures a lot of this transience so well with his Liquid-O concept. A very transient-pro “methodology” or model if I’ve ever seen one.

My point? My call? My ask? My invitation?

Be more transient aware.

Accept it. Embrace it. Even “engineer” for it. Cause it. Create it. Celebrate it.

I’m not saying people/relationships (because of their transience) are disposable or always come to an end. The state of relationships though, I believe, is transient. You discover things about people. You form opinions that are then challenged and changed by their actions and way of being. You may find yourself naturally being transient about someone because of those things.

It doesn’t mean you have to end (it’s a come/go but perhaps of the nature of the relationship than the actual relationship itself).

The team and I at People and Transformational HR Ltd. are being deliberately transient in many respects. Shifting ways of being and working. Some of the team have come and gone. Others have adapted and are being transient into new roles, territories, skills. Casting aside what they were doing/being before and now into a new state. Transience and development; transience and awareness; transience and respect for what once was.

Partners of ours are transient. Some previous partners are still going in their own right, but they’re no longer with us, want to be with us or have a venture direction that’s taken them where they need to be. Transient partnerships.

In a recent webinar with the terrific Lars Schmidt and Lars Hyland I called out 3 questions posed to us in one theme:

Creating Transience, not Division.

I wanted to make the point that silos — divisions created deliberately and inadvertently, exist.

How do we bust them? We recognise them as a fiction.

They’re (silos) not often real (they exist, more we bring them into being — but they’re not real — there’s no barbed wire around finance if you want to talk to someone. Well, mostly not).

Even if two Divisions are located on separate floors in a building, the silo is more in how we behave, engineer processes and make decisions than is about the location and walls/floors between us.

So my answer was to create very deliberate awareness and activation around transience so that people know things are not forever, fixed or fortified.

I talked about creating overarching layers, spaces, where people detach from the silo (metaphorically but also physically if you can/wish to). And gloriously declare that you’re not going to be together forever, but to swarm and form around a problem; that we need a transient team to solve it and not a fixed vessel to blunder into it. And that you’ll disband once solved.

Because when you accept transience, you actively programme for it. And accepting that is liberating, revealing and powerful.

Team briefings about “One…” aren’t necessarily the way to forge a transient team. J Richard Hackman’s 40 years of team-based research has piqued my interest lately.

  • Compelling direction;
  • Strong structure;
  • Supportive context;
  • Competent coaching and
  • A real team — not a group labelled as one.

Notice he doesn’t say anything about being together forever.

He makes no play on their history, interpersonal skills or preferential behaviours. If anything, in Richard’s research he says we’ve overly focused on these.

If we assume teams — and the environment they are in — are transient, we can focus on the 5 crucial factors Richard has gifted us with his research on.

It’s that — acceptance and deliberate modelling of transience — that I think will help us into our next stage of evolution for work and being together in the working pursuits.

Indeed, as I often quote the great Dr King Junior, he said:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Darkness and hate have a state of transience when we bring light and love into our lives.

But I’ll leave the last word on transience (and impermanence — thank you Kirstenbuck for that word from our Team Retrospective this week)to Prince.

But life is just a party. And parties weren’t meant to last”

CEO PTHR |2x TEDx speaker | Author: Transformational HR + The Energized Workplace | HR Most Influential Thinker 2017-2019 | Soulboy + Northampton Town fan