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Supporting organisations to bridge the gap between strategy and action at moments of change, making sense and shaping conversations with Big Pictures.


Filtering by Category: Metaphor

How much do you trust your people?

Delta7 Change


In organisations with a ‘command and control’ culture there is the expectation that orders should be followed to achieve a desired result – rather like following the instructions from a sat nav to reach a destination. This may usually work well, but learning is limited, and the dependency on the sat nav can leave the driver lost or stuck if anything goes wrong with it.

In organisations where individuals are trusted to take more responsibility for their work people have an incentive to take more care, and can become more invested in their outcomes. They are reading the map and charting the route, and having to be alert to their surroundings. Things will go wrong from time to time, but then lessons can be learnt and better solutions found. Sometimes taking a new turning will lead to discoveries and opportunities that would never have appeared on the sat nav.

What makes a story compelling?

Delta7 Change


John le Carré really nails what is at the heart of any great story; drama. By establishing conflict in a situation, the need to restore order and balance becomes the motivation for action. The unfolding story is the journey taken to make sense of the conflict, define the challenges, and undertake the transformation required to meet them.

The drama of organisational change can be scary, so people need to be clear what's at stake for them and their organisation. When change is complex and hard to grasp, a story can help people understand the connection between cause and affect, to make sense of what is going on around them, and think about what might happen to them. It can provide a lens through which they create shared meaning around what needs to change, and help clarify what actions they need to take ownership of.

When a story speaks to people's concerns and aspirations it can be compelling, affecting the way they think, feel, act and behave. It gives them the context they need to make sense of - and take responsibility for - their part in achieving it's outcomes.

We believe that a compelling story is one of the most important elements of a change programme – it helps employees make sense of what’s at stake and take ownership of the organisation’s journey by seeing themselves within it.



Crushed and squeezed - do you recognise this?

Elinor Rebeiro


My colleague drew this image the other day after we were discussing some of the challenges employees experience in their day-to-day work environment. Does it resonate?

It makes me consider the fluid nature of the way I work. As a consultant I am struck by the dichotomy or competing forces that come into play when trying to meet the needs of each client and the needs of the people that I work with.

I quite often feel myself getting overwhelmed trying to meet these expectations - my own included (but they definitely sit at the end of the queue). I think there is something so difficult in this because it is easy to lose perspective and no longer be able to see past the thing that is right in front of you.

A lot of what I am talking about here is perceived as well as 'real' pressure, and can be triggered as much by my own work ethic as it can by my clients’ expectations. When I am in this space it feels completely real and completely crushing – mind, body and soul.

So, what stops me saying "Sod it, I’m getting out of here"? Somedays, honestly, I don’t know. I know that I love my work, I know that I also love my daughter and husband who invariably end up as one of those competing forces rather than one of my reasons for being and why it is so important for me to work.  

When I look at this image I keep asking myself 'Who are these little devils?' For me they are every best intention I have, plus an obligation to my colleagues, plus a commitment to an organisation that pays me to be there. This is in part due to a work ethic, and in part due to a standard I expect of myself.

No-one actively chooses to put their head in a vice, but when you are in that vice how easy is it to take your head out again? Are you even aware that the vice is there?

The answer, for me, is to be able to step out and explore what is happening, take some time to be mindful and reflective. The double bind is, of course, that to do that I still need to be aware that something isn’t right in the first place. Perhaps more realistically it is about stopping often to reflect not only when there is a problem, paying attention to the body response and trying to notice when things seem out of sync. And having a colleague you trust enough to share with how you are feeling can make all the difference. 


another way...

Chris Hayes

This is a metaphor that came up recently in one of our projects during an employee input session.  The conversation highlighted their frustration at not having time to stop and consider whether the way they were doing things was necessarily the best.

“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it. And then he feels that perhaps there isn't.”-A.A. Milne

With the pressures of a working environment it can be hard to find time to take stock of how we do things, something that can appear to be counter intuitive. However this ends up trapping us in a vicious cycle where nothing changes despite our full knowledge of the situation.  It can take a deliberate intervention to recognise the value of stopping and reflecting on what's going on.

The power of metaphor

julian burton

Creating new metaphors

The metaphors we use at work help us to connect the words we use to the meanings we make of our experience. Metaphor in greek means “to transfer, or connect”. A good metaphor is a bridge of meaning, helping us to understanding one thing, or experience, in terms of another.  Metaphors can  influence, and sometimes limit, how we see and understand the world. Once created they can drop below our radar and become unconscious and habitual, implicit assumptions that influence our thinking and behaviour. When organisations are in crisis mode and under pressure to change, we often hear a cry of "we need to change mindsets!" Generating new metaphors can be one way of opening up new possibilities and give us new ways of seeing things.

I’ve been wondering a lot about the metaphors we use as  O.D. practitioners. For example, the metaphor Self-As-Instrument helps us to conceptualise our agency and impact in service of our clients. It works as an easy anchor point to help encompass what we want to learn to develop our skills and capabilities as O.D. practitioners. Learning to be more present, self-aware, empathic and better at deep listening when we work with clients is central to our effectiveness and the value we bring to organisations.

I'm curious about how this metaphor affects how I experience myself when working with clients. What kind of instrument am I? A spade? And microscope? A calculator? A scalpel?  A dictionary definition of instrument is something like "a mechanical implement for delicate and precise work”. I don’t normally feel like an instrument that does things to other people. My experience of the complexity and richness of face to face interactions gives me a sense that having impact or influence isn’t as simple or controllable as the instrument metaphor seems to imply.

What could a new metaphor be? 

For me this metaphor could be reinforcing a transactional rather than a relational attitude to being with others ; one of “doing-to” rather than “being-with”, which feels much more appropriate when working alongside clients. I get a sense that the underlying assumption of this metaphor defines people as things, and as discrete objects that can be “changed" in some transactional and intentional way, which is another implicit assumption worth shining a light on.

There is also a question for me of this metaphor about what it means to be a "Self". Am I an independent rational self with control over my will and identity? Or am I inextricably bound up with and entangled with others and the relationships that continuously form and reform me? It would be really interesting to explore these questions further and inhabit them as a way to help deepen our O.D. skills and capabilities. To inquire into how we see our selves and our effectiveness in more creative and less rational ways could be really useful.

What new metaphors or generative images could we create together to open up new possibilities and come to see ourselves and each other in new and more productive ways? If, as an O.D. practitioner, I shifted my thinking about my role as a “Self-As-Instrument”, what new ways of relating might I start to experience?