Guiding Change as President of the Board of Trustees: Learning from the Liminal Drama of It All


  • Elizabeth K. Briody



Organizational-culture change, organizational transitions, liminality, resistance, social drama


Organizational-culture change has been of interest to scholars and practitioners for decades, though little empirical data has contributed to our understanding of ritual transitions. By contrast, transitions for individuals, but not organizations, have been examined through the theoretical lenses of ritual process. This article builds on both literatures to explore planned change in an assisted living and nursing care community. I led an effort, as President of the Board of Trustees, to establish philanthropy as a core element of the organizational culture at a time when the long-term-care sector had become increasingly competitive. Participant observation, documentary data and discussions, along with the roles I played, resulted in this account. My term of office was marked by ambiguity, inaction, polarization, and conflict. I distinguish among three types of “liminal” or transitional periods, using van Gennep and Turner’s works as a foundation. I illustrate the relationship between liminality and the resistance and interventions that emerged within the Board and Leadership Team, drawing implications for ritual theory―particularly, liminality and social drama. The practical lessons from this experience, depicted in the Countering Resistance Model, should be helpful to other organizations and leadership groups in mitigating their own transition difficulties.