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How to lead and manage a team through change

Leading & managing change 22nd September 2020
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Change – whether it be personal or professional – is hard. In fact our data shows that only 28% of people agree that a change is embraced when it is mismanaged.

Even the best-laid change plan can encounter resistance. So what does it take to effectively lead a team through change? These are some crucial areas to address…

1. The importance of managing a team through change: have the conversation

An essential role for leading a team through change is to manage the flow of two-way communication with the team because:

  1. It enables engagement which stabilises and focuses a team;
  2. It creates awareness of what is going to change and how, as well as increasing understanding of who it is going to affect – positively or negatively;
  3. It supports people to understand the change and their role in making it happen.

Top tips

When managing teams through change it is important to recognise that change is complex and has an element of uncertainty; therefore traditional communication mechanisms won’t be enough.

Often change is communicated through mechanisms like townhalls, meetings, presentations to whole departments and video broadcasts etc. These rely on leaders to deliver information from a position of knowledge and authority, which can create the impression that change is being ‘done to us’. Instead, look to have conversations – a two-way dialogue allows people to:

  1. Deepen their understanding;
  2. Figure out the change and what it means for them;
  3. Come to terms with what’s still uncertain.

For conversations to be meaningful, both parties must feel that:

  1. Something important (in relation to the change) has been shared and gets discussed;
  2. They have been listened to and understood;
  3. Their views have been taken into consideration.

To start that change conversation, it helps to have a conversation starter question – these need to:

  1. Be an open question that has maximum probability of open, genuine views being shared;
  2. Align to the personality and preferences of team – what types of question might prompt them to open up?
  3. Have a clear purpose, e.g. is it to understand people’s reservations; is it to help the team see the change benefits? Is there a call to action?

2. The importance of managing a team through change: understand what is needed to adopt change

Change happens one person at a time, and for each person there will be motivations for and against them being prepared to adopt a change. An appropriate analogy here is a see-saw or a set of scales. On one side are the person’s motivations/reasons for adopting change, i.e. what they believe they will gain from the change. On the other side are the motivations/reasons against, i.e. what they believe they will lose, combined with their fears about the transition.

When leading teams through change help people fully understand what they will gain; reassure them about what they fear losing; and create a safe environment for them to transition. By doing this, managers can help tip the balance so that people adopt change and feel supported through it.

Top tips

The key here (again) is conversation – get a clear understanding of what team members are feeling as a ‘cost’ to them in relation to the change. To do this effectively:

  1. Seek to find out what people value about their role and what they feel valued for. If they feel that the change threatens this, it can result in significant resistance.
  2. Give people an opportunity to explore their concerns.

Sometimes it helps in conversation to have a structure to talk around as it creates psychological safety and encourages thinking around areas that might be missed otherwise. An empathy map is a great tool to generate this discussion. For example, each team member could put a post-it note into the boxes and the whole team can then discuss what’s been written.

Want more tips on leading a team through a time of change? Download our guide: ‘How to lead a team through change’

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How to lead a team through change