Orchestration: The Catalyst Achilles Heel

 In Front Page, READ

What do you know about Orchestration? If you resonate with the title of Catalyst you should worked on being versed on the concept because orchestration is very likely achilles heel for most Catalysts.

When we met Gabe (pseudonym) he was new in a design research role. He was confident that design research methods would help transform the company, ensuring that products would be developed more closely aligned to the needs of actual customers, therefore making the company that much more successful.

Starting his role he had met with “everyone” telling them about design research and design thinking and the design process and how he could help them. He expected a rush of engagements, people emailing and asking him to support their efforts. But instead, after months he felt he still needed to fight to get invited to meetings.

He didn’t know what to do!


“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

William H. Whyte


So what do we mean by orchestration? Here’s our definition.

Orchestration: The process of helping others see their role in manifesting a stated vision.

Said another way, if you are driving toward a certain outcome then you need to step into the role of an orchestra conductor to help bring that outcome to life.

In our article, The Three Most Common Mistakes of Catalytic Leaders, we point out that as Catalysts we often skip orchestration. And we do that because we are so in service of our vision – the destination where the world is better that is crystal clear to us – and we assume everyone else is in service of that new destination as well. If it was clear to us, it must be clear to everyone else, too.

But all kinds of things get in the way of that being true:

  • They may not see what you see.
  • They may see it fleetingly or be mesmerized with your excitement, but don’t really see it for themselves.
  • They may not understand why it is truly beneficial to THEM. Maybe in general, but why is it worth their time, energy and effort, as opposed to putting those things elsewhere? What do they really get out of doing work to move to this new destination?
  • They may not understand how to participate in getting there.

As the advocate of change it is our job to help people see what we see, why it is beneficial to them and how they can participate in making that vision a reality. It is our job to conduct the orchestra.

There are six key tools that are essential to orchestrating the change you want to bring into being.

#1 – Clearly Articulate Your Vision. If people can’t see the destination, they are not going to travel there. Therefore you need to articulate the vision so they really understand what you are talking about AND so they understand the benefit to them.

An important part of vision articulation is the use of models, or visual communication. 80% of people remember what they see, compared to ten percent what they hear and 20 percent of what they read. And visual social media content is 40 times more likely to get shared. So after you have found words to describe your vision, build models to show your vision.

One model could show stages toward the ultimate vision so people understand the steps from here to there. We call this an Action Map. This one would be regularly updated.

#2 – Map Your Network. You need to know who is in your orchestra (and who shouldn’t be). Talking to everyone over and over doesn’t scale and it hard to keep track of. So you want to take time to consider who you want to target and how. If you are in an organization, having the org chart is helpful, but there is much it does not tell you. And if you are driving for change outside of an organization, maybe in your neighborhood or starting a new venture, you will need to draw the map from scratch anyway.

Some things to make note of as a you build your network map: Who are your endorsers / advocates? Who has decision making authority? Are influencers? Who are or might be resistors? Knowing these will help you build a strategy of who to influence and how.

#3 – Build Your Influence Strategy. Once you have mapped your network you’ll want to be intentional about growing Influence with specific people you identified. For example, you won’t need to spend as much time with endorsers, but you will need to keep them up to date. Versus decision makers and influencers should have regular time with you.

As you build your influence strategy you will want to leverage best practices in growing influence, such as understanding the world view and currencies of each key person.

#4 – Over-Communicating. An important tool is to repeat repeat repeat. Politicians do this well. Catalysts often do not. Once you have articulated your vision, built an Action Map and identified the right people to be in your orchestra, you want to be sure you are repeating and updating regularly, likely until it feels uncomfortable to you (but probably not to others).

#5 – Breadcrumbing. As Catalysts we iterate quickly and sometimes we don’t even recall how we got from A to B to Q. So it’s easy to understand why others can struggle to follow our lead. Breadcrumbing is the act of documenting how you got from A to B to Q.

Sharing these breadcrumbs will help people understand your path so they feel stable as you all move forward. Otherwise our iteration can make people feel as if they are on quicksand.

In addition, breadcrumbing is also an important way to document your role as the Catalyst so you can keep track of the impact you have had along the way. When we are successful as Catalysts people eventually believe what we advocated was there all along, and our impact can become invisible. So breadcrumbing helps to mark those shifts toward manifested vision.

#6 – Project Management Tools. If you are orchestrating others you may find the need to engage with project management tools that have timeline or task management. If you are doing this within an organizational context we suggest you adopt tools that are already being used in the organization, even if they aren’t the very best tools. Unless the change you are advocating for is a new project management system, trying to bring in a new tool likely is not worth the noise.

If you are building outside of an organization you can use whatever makes the most sense to you and the people you’ll be working with.

The key is once you start a system, make sure to use it. As the orchestra conductor you need to create the structure and actually adhere to it.


After working with Gabe he built a visual model of how design research works and how it could help his partners. He mapped his network and met with influencers and decision makers. Got their feedback and had them imprint their ideas on the model. He built a plan to be checking in with them regularly to ensure he was over-communicating and he was updating them. He found people felt they were hearing his ideas for the first time, and they really seemed to get it. As a result he started getting invited to meetings and was able to begin to document small wins along his Action Map.


If you would like to go deeper on orchestration, a great place to do that is the Catalyzing Organizational Change course. This course is an 6-week online course where we come together to clarify our identities as Catalysts, then learn and practice skills such as orchestration that will allow us to sustain our energy and thrive while we make meaningful change. And we do this together with a group of like-minded Catalysts, creating a safe tribe to experiment and grow with.

Recommended Posts