Leveraging Teams for Successful Change – Part 2

Kiersten Rippeteau | Consultant | Palmer OSG

Last quarter we introduced the idea of leveraging teams for successful change. We provided tips for avoiding “team survival mode” that comes about when a team’s context is threatened by change. Our focus this quarter is to help you understand what happens to a team’s performance elements during change.

According to Leigh Thompson, a team’s performance elements are its expertise, engagement, and execution needs (2014).

Here are some tips for preparing for changes to any of these elements during change.

When a team’s required expertise changes, it can create anxiety. Without proper communication, team members will start to recognize their current skills are incongruent with the changes being discussed. Without the facts, they are likely to make inaccurate and counterproductive assumptions. Getting in front of those assumptions and communicating plans for supporting new required expertise will lessen anxiety and reduce assumptions.

Prior to the change, identify what skills and behaviors will be required for all impacted teams to perform well in the new context. Then look for any gaps between the current and required future skills and behaviors. Create a plan for how the organization will help team members gain the skills and learn the behaviors that are congruent with the change. Communicate this plan early and often to ease anxieties from the outset. It’s important to also be aware that some changes will require a reduction in force. When this is the case, thoughtful communications and exit plans can be even more important.

A change initiative may also require a shift in the team’s engagement; who they are engaging with. For instance, we often see an increase in the need for communication between Project Managers and Accounting in process improvements. Changing who you’re asking people to engage with daily can be among the most difficult changes for people to accept and comply with because they value the relationships with people they’re used to communicating with, or they value the autonomy of doing a task without having to rely on others. Either way, taking the time to prepare them for engagement changes can increase the speed to compliance with the change.

Identify new engagements a change will require. Assess (1) whether there are appropriate communication channels established between the two people or functions who will need to communicate, and (2) the nature of the relationship of the people or functions who will need to communicate. Relationships can often be improved or developed more quickly through personality measures such as DiSC or MBTI, which improve mutual understanding of one’s own and others’ styles and priorities. Effective communication channels (that go beyond simply expecting new email exchanges) can be created and implemented using organization design practices.

A team’s execution needs are simply what they need to execute their day-to-day operations; particular software, sign-off from an individual, or the ability to communicate quickly with Marketing, for instance. An organizational change may require new skills, strategies, or systems for execution.

It is not uncommon for team members to recognize a changed or missing execution need before the change leadership committee recognizes it. For this reason (among many others), involving representatives from impacted teams from the onset is important. They don’t need to be decision makers, per se, but at the very least they should be given the opportunity to provide feedback or even test the change in a simulated environment when appropriate.

Organizational Setting | Team Design | Team Culture | Expertise | Engagement | Execution Needs

Addressing these six team elements prior to and throughout a change initiative can be the difference between a successful, sustained change and a costly change that causes pain, anxiety, and ultimately fails in the end.