8 Ways to Manage A Team Through Change

Updated: Jun 19, 2019

Change is constantly happening on your team and in business. Whether it’s new leadership, a reorganization, a merger or acquisition, successfully leading a team through change is hard and it presents both opportunities and challenges. To maximize benefits and minimize stress, leaders need to be organized, strategic and almost overly prepared.

As a leader, you need clear goals, while also staying hyper-aware of how daily activities may change for you and your team. A key to getting ahead is thinking through various scenarios that could materialize – what can go right and what may go wrong. Change can breed unexpected developments, and leaders need to show composure to the team looking to them for guidance.

An action plan that employs a distribution of expectations and responsibilities across teams is essential. A transition fostered by individual heroics, on the other hand, is tough to streamline and sustain.

The best organizations succeed because leaders steer coordination across teams, maximizing the talent and versatility of various players. Well-positioned teams weather change together, evolving collectively.

Assess Organizational Design

The leadership team has to be poised to enact the full body exercise that is transformation. Prior to an organizational change, it’s a good strategy to conduct an audit to ensure they have the skills, experiences and knowledge to steer their company into its future.

Ask: How can the team become effective as quickly as possible? What new challenges or responsibilities face our team as we grow? Do gaps exist?

Challenges associated with change stand to unearth weakness in leadership and on teams. It’s better to own, evaluate and strengthen those during the planning phase.

“Org design is about making scalable decisions.” says Dan Spaulding, Chief People Officer of Zillow. “Are you making a long-term decision or simply trying to solve a short-term problem? Many leaders react to short-term org challenges and create perpetual change instead of focusing on where they want the org to be long-term and setting a coherent strategy to get there. There will always be uncertainty and resistance, but when you can explain the changes, people can understand and rally around that vision.”

Activate Change Management

When not managed correctly, change can disrupt culture, impeding innovation and efficiency. Messaging is key.

Wendy Barnes, SVP & CHRO Palo Alto Networks advises: “It’s critical to have a clear vision of the end-state so you can get everyone moving in the right direction. That helps you crystalize the rationale for the change so you can effectively communicate it to everyone who needs to know and get the right stakeholders involved from the start.”

A systematic and scalable effort can help people to accept change. Spaulding explains: “Having an organization with defined values that communicates with transparency will help to build a growth mindset that builds adaptable employees. Org transformation is difficult work and should be undertaken from a systems-thinking approach with commitment to getting it right (or at least with empathy and respect) for everyone that will be impacted.”

Set the Direction

Leaders position their team for success by making priorities clear at each stage. Articulate a vision the team can believe in. Hear their concerns. Empower them to deliver results by offering clear instructions.

Defining metrics for monitoring the team’s operations can help. Granted, there is likely to be disruption, but the goal is to contain that so that it doesn’t impact morale and productivity.

Keep a list of key priorities; it can be tough to keep sight of them in an environment of change.

Engage Your Team

Being focused and organized positions leaders to help their team flex their way through transition; again, this scenario doesn’t demand a hero. It calls for a prepared and savvy facilitator.

Steve Jobs famously reflected: “It doesn’t make sense to hire to smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Position the team to succeed, then afford them the autonomy to do so.

Empower Decision-Making

Be transparent and explicit. Share goals and rationales that prompt decisions. Seek input. Invite dialogue.

Leveraging the team’s wisdom can help solve problems quickly. It can be demotivating if the transition disrupts work; aim to keep operations buzzing.

Leverage Talent

Career planning is an ongoing process that bridges one’s current job to the next opportunity. Design succession plans to help the team achieve their goals. Nurture talent by matching career goals with available or upcoming opportunities.

Keep the Team Moving Forward

Leaders need to overextend their EQ. Barnes points out: “Empathy plays a big part in how I approach these conversations because in many cases my team is hearing about a change that will also impact them on a personal level. I like to face this challenge head-on by offering my own perspective in hopes that others will share what makes them feel uncertain. If you confront it early, it helps clear their air so you can get back to the task of leading the company through change.”

Spaulding adds: “People need to hear the ‘why’ several times, and if work processes or roles are changing, make sure that you have a change plan that recognizes those changes and helps people to navigate them.”

Make sure that the right people address the right issues without absorbing everyone’s time. Simplify hard topics, keeping them closed after the discussion (no backchanneling, gossip, or negative behaviors). Encourage people with different styles and help cultivate their talent and participation.

Share Success

Make it clear to your team members: they are vital to the success of the transformation. You’ve got this, and so do they.


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