BRM Tools: Risks of Change — Throwing rocks at glasshouses

There is a saying that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. If you’re in a position where you could be criticised, then you should be wary of being critical of others. This is generally good advice. It is, however, possible to turn this to a positive. It is from this thinking that the game “Rocks at Glass Houses” came about.

Life is risky. Change has risk. Not changing may have a greater risk. One of the pitfalls of risk management is that you focus on managing the list of risks rather than taking action to prevent the risk from occurring.

The Business Relationship Manager can facilitate conversation between leaders as they look to instigate change. Throwing rocks at glass houses is a tool can be used in conjunction with the Change Impact Game.

For some reason, it is easier to find fault and be critical of someone else than for our position.

As a leadership team seeking to make a change, this behaviour can be exploited to explore challenge and risk.


Having set out the change that you are planning to instigate start to write out the potential issues, risks or challenges for the person to your left or right. Depending on the size of the group you may want to extend this to be wider and allow people to write things for anyone else. If you find it helpful you can write things for your area of responsibility as well.

Important: you need each contribution on a single sheet of paper — A4 or A5 (but not post-it notes!

Once everyone has had time to think and contribute then gather up the ideas. Review them as a group, removing duplicates and getting clarification where needed. If the conversations develop into the detail then it may help to allow that to happen but equally don’t expect to be able to address everything in this session.

The next stage is to scrunch the paper into a ball — tight enough to throw, not so tight as to do damage or be impossible to open up!

Now for the fun — you get to throw the paper rocks at each other. This could be done once, or for variation and added excitement (!) perhaps allow 30 seconds for the rocks to be thrown around. At the end of the time, every rock should now be sitting with an owner.

The rocks in your pile (again, you may want to do some redistribution to equal things up a bit) now belong to you.

It is your responsibility to ensure that whatever issue, challenge or risk doesn’t cause a problem to the change initiative.

Just as with the Change Impact Game, this forces individuals in a team to recognise that they will achieve success together. It’s easy to find fault with someone else, but it is better to partner with them to ensure together you can succeed.

The key thing here is that there is a shared responsibility for success. How the risk is mitigated is up to those the owner chooses to involve.

They may delegate, work with others, even (though hopefully not!) ignore it. What they cannot do is not accept that it sits with them.

Why do this?

It’s important to think about what could go wrong but it is too easy to presume that someone else will sort things out. The purpose of this activity is to build shared responsibility in the team for the change being successful.

In most cases, the activity will need to be done by someone who doesn’t “own” the rock and therefore you always have two people with an interest in getting things sorted. This should give the start of diverse thinking, a desire for co-operation and breaking some of the silos that creep in when it comes to delivery.

If nothing else, just the act of going through the process where you can identify problems in someone else’s “space” is likely to get more ideas generated than if you just have to think about your area.

Written by

An experienced senior digital business leader with experience of delivering transformative change.

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