Stage 1.5   Inside or Outside?

Although such distinctions are not always clear, change agents have long debated the relative advantages of beginning as an insider or an outsider. When all the pros and cons are tallied, however, neither position seems to be clearly superior. A recounting of the major advantages and disadvantages of each may be helpful.


The insider has these advantages

  • .... knows the system: knows where the power lies, where the strategic leverage points are; is better able than a newcomer to identify the gatekeepers, the opinion leaders, and the innovators .
  • .... speaks the language, literally and figuratively; knows the special ways members discuss and refer to things; has the accent, the tone, and the style .
  • .... understands the norms (the commonly held beliefs, attitudes, behaviors) and, at least in part, probably follows and believes many of them .
  • .... identifies with the system's needs and aspirations. The insider agent's cares are the system's cares. Thus, there is a personal incentive for helping .
  • .... is a familiar figure, a known quantity. Most of what the insider agent does is understandable and predictable as "member" behavior; therefore, the agent doesn't pose the threat of ''the new" and "the unfamiliar."


The insider also has these disadvantages

  • may lack perspective .. may not be able to see the system as a "whole" because of the agent's particular place and perspective within the system.
  • may not have the special knowledge or skill relevant to the innovation. The agent may not have had enough training or experience to be a true expert.
  • may not have an adequate power base (unless the agent is at the top (as some are). The agent's plans may be thwarted by superiors or competing peers.
  • may have to live down past failures or jealousy by some for past successes.
  • may not have the independence of movement often required to be effective. The obligations of membership may limit the energy required in the new role.
  • usually faces task of redefining relationships with the other members.
  • In assuming the new role, the change agent must be able to change the expectations of associates about their appropriate role and behavior. As noted in the previous section, this is sometimes difficult.



The outsider has these advantages

  • .... starts fresh in many cases and is not burdened by negative stereotypes .
  • .... is in a position to have perspective; the outsider can look at the client system objectively and thus may be able to see problems that the insider would not see.
  • ... is able to identify needs and opportunities which insiders would be unable to perceive. Moreover, insiders often have a special axe to grind. They tend to see this or that problem as most pressing because it is the problem which impinges upon them most directly. The outsider, on the other hand, can look at the problems of all members collectively and, thus, make a more objective diagnosis. Outsiders are not always so objective, of course. Often, indeed, they are heavily invested in the adoption of particular innovations and, consequently, the stressing of certain needs. Nevertheless, the outsider is in the position to be objective about diagnosis.
  • ... is independent of the power structure in the client system. The outsider always has the option of pulling out if and when such action is deemed necessary. The outsider is not compelled to identify with any particular faction and is not forever threatened or inhibited by superior authorities.
  • .... is in a position to bring in something genuinely new. An outsider is more likely to have had the opportunity to gain expertise beyond that which the client system already possesses.


The outsider also has these disadvantages

  • .... is a stranger and represents a potential threat. What the outsider will do is unknown and unpredictable; it might cause discomfort, conflict, or some sort of disturbance to the natural order of things .
  • .... may lack insider knowledge; i.e., may not understand the system, its  norms, or values, especially those which are deeply held but unspoken.
  • .... may not "care enough, i.e., may not be able to identify adequately with the needs of the client. The pain is not his or her pain, so he or she may be relatively indifferent to the needs which the client feels most acutely. Even if this is not true, this may be the perception.
  • .... may get trapped unwittingly into internal strife, e.g., be seen as belonging to one side or another.


In order to capitalize on the advantages and avoid the problems of both insider and outsider, many experienced change agents have suggested that the best solution is a "change agent team" in which both insiders and outsiders work together. Thus, the insider who is initiating a change effort would do well to enlist some­one from the outside to work as a collaborator. Such an ­outside person could provide an "expert" legitimacy for the insider's efforts in addition to contributing some real expertise. This outsider could provide an objective perspective on the world in which the inside change agent is working. And the outside expert could give moral support to the insider whose efforts to do what is "right" for the system are being received by colleagues with something less than enthusiasm.

Conversely, the outsider who initiates change would do well to enlist the inside support of some member who both understands the client system and is familiar with the change process. Preferably, this insider would be someone with reasonable security and status within the system, either as a leader, an influential, or a gatekeeper. Any selection of members for the inside-outside team should try to maximize the strengths of both positions in the service of innovation.

Depending on the resources, change teams can bring in members and advisors to serve a number of different functions: special content expertise, legitimacy with one or another faction, or skills in group process or change process. Change agents and change teams may themselves find it very desirable to involve outside process consultants.