Map of the biggest barriers to change in your organisation

The Biggest Barriers to Change and Transformation

The biggest barriers to change and transformation are often behaviours, biases, beliefs, mis-management, misunderstandings and misconceptions that survive and thrive unspoken about in the shadows of every organisation.

Having been involved in innovation, change and transformation for pretty much all of my working life (over 35 years so far 😳) I have repeatedly encountered THE SAME barriers and obstacles in every department, in every industry, in every geography that I have ever worked in!

As a passionate troublemaker innovation catalyst that is constantly striving to stimulate change and transformation, working out ways to conquer these "Monsters & Myths" (what I call these barriers and obstacles)  has been a never-ending, but worthy, quest.

Ideas are easy but execution is HARD.

Particularly when your path is full of seemingly insurmountable barriers and obstacles.

I learned very early in my career that the first step to overcome the biggest barriers to change was to be able to identify them.

As Sun Tzu said in "The Art of War":-

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

You need to be able to recognise the Monsters & Myths, learning their strengths and weaknesses, in order to overcome them.

Who in the organisation might know what Monsters & Myths you could encounter on your journey?

It's not a trick question - pretty much anyone that has ever tried to change anything would have encountered Monsters & Myths!!

The problem is that very few people are comfortable talking about their failure to overcome obstacles, as failure is frowned upon in many organisations.

They might feel that perhaps it's all their fault.

They may have given up at the first obstacle they encountered.

Or perhaps they pushed on through the second, third or fourth hurdle as driving change got tougher and tougher before they finally gave up. They might feel ashamed to admit that they couldn't reach their final goal or believe it might reflect badly on their ability to do their job.

On the other hand, the people that are the most successful at overcoming the biggest barriers to change are also often unlikely to share the "magic" they use. The reason for this is that it often becomes a key skill they build their careers on. How many times have you heard "I don't know how XXX did it but they cleared all the obstacles in our way"? Those people quickly build their reputations as highly valued members of the organisation as "people that can get things done".

Which is great but ........ wouldn't you like to have more people like them?

The ones who could overcome the biggest barriers to change in your organisation?

Wouldn't you like to be able to replicate their "magic" too?

SPOILER ALERT - you can!

I've seen (and even performed) a fair share of "magic" in my time and I came to realise that hunting down Monsters & Myths is a team sport.


I went in search of Monster hunters and Myth busters to collaborate with, share stories, compare notes and (hopefully) capture the magic they had to share. As I expected to be the case, the same Monsters & Myths kept on cropping up in our discussions, interviews, roundtables and workshops.

No matter where in the organisation the people worked, no matter what industry they worked in, no matter where in the world their quest took place.

The same Monsters & Myths.


I thought it would be really useful to have a simple way to collaborate with each other. To have a common construct whereby we could identify these Monsters & Myths so that we could recognise them early and plan our strategy to overcome them.

Inspired by a Sci-Fi/Fantasy series I was watching at the time (yes, a guilty pleasure), I came up with these "Monsters & Myths Trading Cards" © which I began using in client workshops.

The Monsters and Myths card summarises the biggest barriers to change in your organisation

Example Monsters&Myths card

Participants create these cards in advance or on-the-fly using tools and templates I have created (SO much more engaging than post-it-notes right?) and the construct provides a "safe-space" to shine a light on potentially taboo topics (like inter-departmental "turf wars" perhaps?).

At this point of the exercise, the "scores" are totally subjective and primarily prompts to encourage the discussion to follow.

  • Frequency - how often do you encounter this problem when you try to get something done? Does it happen 100% of the time?
  • Detection - how difficult is it to see? Some Monsters & Myths are more subtle than others and thus more difficult to realise they are acting as a barrier.
  • Impact - does this have a high impact on your team or organisation?
  • Effort - how difficult is this Monster or Myth to overcome?

Perhaps you've even encountered the "Swamp Monster" shown here before?

Once the Monsters & Myths have been identified, the group has an open discussion about them, debating and challenging the scores, with the objective of ranking the impact and "sharing the magic" - their suggested solutions and ways to overcome these barriers and obstacles.

The simple act of sharing their pain points often surfaces amazing insights as most of the time, the participants collectively KNOW what needs to be done but are powerless to overcome these barriers on their own - I did say that hunting down Monsters and Myths is a team sport!

One customer has actually started using their Monsters & Myths cards as part of their team onboarding process...........

BUT that's not all.

To drive actionable outcomes and "plan your attack" (form a strategy) on the Monsters & Myths in your organisation, you need a map - so I came up with this:-

Map of the biggest barriers to change in your organisation

Who says Miro boards have to be boring?

It's really just a simple 10x10 matrix plotting Impact and Effort, but the visualisation facilitates further discussion and reflection.

How many Monsters & Myths are found on the "Plains of Possibility" where they require little effort to overcome, but some are having a significant impact on your ability to get things done? What's stopping you from doing something about them?

How many Monsters & Myths are living on the "Pinnacles of Pain", causing maximum impact but taking supreme effort to overcome? What are you going to do about them? Who can you "join forces" (collaborate) with to overcome them?

For some teams and organisations, this level of exercise is sufficient for them to work out their strategy moving forward and they keep the map updated at regular intervals.

I've also had some clients run extremely enlightening roundtables with their Customer Advisory Boards and customer focus groups as a way to surface the pain points their customers face in their lives, so that they can figure out how they can help their customers overcome the barriers and obstacles they face in getting things done (a great way of gaining customer insights).

BUT we all face a scarcity of resources (in fact that's a Monster that came up in a recent workshop!) and we know that in order to change the way things are in many organisations, we need to be able to cost-justify our actions.

For those that need to dig deeper, I offer you the rest of the "deck" of cards I have created for this purpose:-

Analysis Paralysis Mayhem card

The Mayhem card encourages people to quantify the IMPACT of a Monster or Myth in terms that will enable you to build the business case to overcome it.

The Magic card summarises solutions to try

The Magic card summarises solutions and approaches to try and attempts to quantify the EFFORT / cost in terms of resources (time/ money etc) required to overcome the Monsters & Myths.

What becomes immediately obvious is that there is most likely a "many-to-many" relationship between the Monsters & Myths and the Mayhem they cause, in that many of the Monsters & Myths have multiple, overlapping, impacts on the organisation.

Similarly, there is also often a many-to-many relationship between the Magic, and the Monsters & Myths they will overcome.

This is easier visualised on (you guessed it) a Miro board as below:-

Using a Miro board to visualise relationships between Monsters, Myths, Mayhem and Magic

Use a Miro board to visualise relationships between Monsters, Myths, Mayhem and Magic

This is a really simple example just for illustration but the idea is that you are able to identify clusters of activities that will have the biggest impact on removing the biggest barriers to change in your organisation.

According to this article from the Boston Consulting Group, some organisations have dedicated CEO funds and COO's have set up SWAT teams whose sole purpose is to clear the pathways of progress.

Do you have something like this in your organisation?

Should you?

This is aligned with the final step in my construct "Mustering the troops" which of course has one final card - the MUSTER card, which summarises the team and objectives of their mission to overcome the Monsters & Myths.

Now for the seasoned Monster Hunters among you, you will have realised as I went through my methodology that it is based on an age old, tried and tested approach whose acronym I won't spell out here for fear of falling foul of profanity filters ........

  • Problem
  • Impact(s)
  • Solution(s)
  • Strategy

There is absolutely nothing stopping you from taking this approach and running with it in your own organisation.

But if you'd like to do it in a highly engaging way that generates genuinely useful artifacts and actionable outcomes then you can get your hands on all the tools and templates I've outlined here, simply by engaging me to run your first workshop for you.

The only question I have left for you is:-