The "Four Room Apartment" comes from Marvin Weisbord's Productive Workplaces, and he got it from the Swedish social psychologist Claes Janssen. It's a tool for visualizing where the potential energy is in a person, group, or organization. How much energy we have for change depends on which room we're in. And we're in different rooms depending on health, mood, external forces, or aspirations. No one room is "better" than another, but not all endeavors work in every room.
In Contentment, we like the status quo. We're calm and satisfied. Any change--a merger, reorganization, new leader, market crisis--can move us into Denial, where we're perceived as unaware or afraid of change. That moves us through the door into Confusion. It's here that we muck around, make some mistakes, maybe feel a lot of emotion, do the hard work of sorting things out. And we eventually open the door to Renewal, feeling open, sincere, willing to risk.
I find this model very useful--especially the idea that Confusion can lead to Renewal. The metaphor I often use is that of a home remodel. You've moved out of denial ("Okay. We really do need a bigger kitchen") and you start gutting the place--pulling sheetrock out, ripping up the floors. It feels pretty horrible and chaotic, but you can't cook in your beautiful new kitchen until things have been torn apart. Things get worse before they get better. That's the assurance I was trying to give my team the other night.
As a consultant, my job is to be with people during change. Weisbord says much of organizational development (OD) work fails because we're focusing excellent methods on people living in Contentment or Denial. He says, "The seeds of success are sown in Confusion and sprout in Renewal. That's where people welcome flip charts, models, and OD techniques." And I love his advice about how I can be with my clients in each of the four rooms:
Contentment: Leave people alone (unless the building's on fire).
Denial: Ask questions. Give support. Raise awareness. NO advice.
Confusion: Focus on future. Structure tasks. Get people together.
Renewal: Offer help for implementation.
Much of my job in helping organizations grow toward wholeness is to recognize which room my clients are in and how I can be most useful to them there. What room are you in? What about your workplace?