Get people out of their comfort zone? Not too far…
The phrase “get people out of their comfort zone” is a cliché which gets bandied around a lot, but have you ever sat down and thought about it?
During my sustainability training and/or engagement workshops, I used to try and split up work teams to get them out of their comfort zones. Then a couple of times I got lazy and didn’t bother, and found that people performed better in the workshop when they were with colleagues they knew.
I recently found this diagram in a paper by Moran and Tame (Journal of Sustainability Education, 2013) which may explain this. It comes from the field of experiential adventure education.
It basically says, yes, to make real change, you have to get people out of the comfort zone. But, if you drag them too far, they end up in the panic zone and flee or freeze. In between is the stretch zone where you get peak performance and peak learning.
The sustainability workshops I run are challenging to most people and will stretch them. To throw them into the unknown without their colleagues around them was probably pulling people towards the panic zone – not full on meltdown panic, but “I don’t like this, so I’m going to keep my mouth shut” discomfort.
So by all means challenge people, but don’t drive them too hard or you will lose them.