8 Ways to Manage Teams Through Change
Managing teams is not easy at the best of times. When there is a lot of change happening, then managing the team becomes even harder.
In this article, I share 8 key tips that I found made managing teams, and especially during periods of change, a lot easier and lot less stressful.
In each of the tips, I share a couple of methods of how to implement each too so after reading this article you will have a list of practical steps you can put into practice immediately.
8 Ways to Manage Teams Through Change:
- Communicate early and clearly
- Share what you know
- Understand and agree on the end goal
- Create a plan to get to the goal
- Assign responsibilities and milestones
- Coach and mentor
- Hold team members to account
- Protect team and manage expectations
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Communicate as early and clearly as possible – the first way to manage teams through change
When you don’t know what is going to happen, you can’t mentally prepare yourself nor plan on how you are going to adapt or learn. The fear of the unknown is often much worse that any resistance to specific change. To counter this, when there is a change coming, communicate what is happening as quickly and as clearly as possible.
Give the team members plenty of time to reflect, ask questions and understand what any changes might mean for them personally, the team and the wider business.
Communicating what is happening gives the team members time to mentally prepare themselves and start working out what any changes will mean for themselves personally and what they will need to do to adapt to the changes.
I appreciate that communication is an obvious necessity to many, yet too many managers struggle to communicate effectively or at the right time to minimise uncertainty and lack of trust.
Use different ways of communicating this to team members. For example:
- Talk through the changes in one-to-one meetings with each team member. Encourage each team member to ask questions and then answer the questions as honestly as possible.
- Talk about the changes in team meetings, and get the team asking questions
- Write a summary of the changes and email it round to the team members
Different communication styles will help the different team members take in the information. Do communicate repeatedly to the team.
So remember, as a manager, you must communicate clearly, openly, and often with team members during periods of change.
The second way to manage teams through change: Share what you know
I have found repeatedly, that sharing as much information as relevant and sensible with the team I am managing helps everyone. Give the team members the reasons why certain decisions, actions or projects are happening. Encourage them to ask questions and provide honest answers.
When you give the team context for decisions, they have a much better understanding of why you or the company is making the decision. As a result in, my experience, they accept the decision more readily. At the very least, they will think about what you are planning and ask questions. Engagement is a good sign.
When team members understand the goals and the path to that goal, they can adapt:
- what they are doing and
- their decisions and
- their projects
This helps support the goal or at least minimise any conflicts as much as possible. If the team members don’t know what is happening or why it is happening, then it is very hard for them to adapt what they are doing to give the best result as a team.
If you don’t share information, how are you going to fully tap into the talent that each team member has? You have hired them for their skills and experience. Let them fully use their skills and experience.
Sharing information openly and honestly is trust in action. By demonstrating your trust of the team and opening yourself up to scrutiny, you reduce barriers, build team trust in you, and get input that can lead to an even better solution.
When managing teams through change, harnessing their expertise to implement the changes, and building their trust in you as a leader and manager is vital to making your job as a manager easier. It also increases the likelihood of the change being implemented being a success.
Share the knowledge you have rather than hoard it. Sharing will make your job as a manager much easier.
Understand and agree on the end goal – the third way to manage teams through change
As a manager, setting goals for the team to work towards is necessary. If you don’t, then each member of the team will work in the direction they think best. Chances are that you will have everyone going to all points of the compass. Achieving much when this is happening is hard.
Set a goal or set of goals to give everyone a focus to aim at. Each person can then prioritise their activities and projects to best support and meet the team and personal goals. The team will then move in similar direction, which will result in them achieving a lot more, and achieving the right things. In periods of change, setting goals and milestones becomes even more important.
When something is changing, there will be more uncertainty within the team. Creating goals and direction brings more certainty and clarity.
Work to clearly define the goal, and then make sure the team understands the goal you are trying to reach. Ask them to explain the goal and how you will both know when they reach the goal. If you are not able to define the goal clearly, how will you or the team know when the goal is reached?
An even better approach is to get the team to help you define the goal and milestones along the way. This takes a little longer than you defining the goals. The benefits you get is a team that owns the goals alongside your rather them being your goals imposed on them, and you may end up with better goals or a better plan to achieve the goals.
However you approach setting goals, make sure you set the goals during the period of change and explain them clearly to the team so that everyone understands them.
The forth way to manage teams through change: Create a plan to get to the goal
How are you, as a team, going to reach the agreed goals? When managing a team through change, some, or even all, of the team may not know how to do the new activity or reach the newly set goal.
Creating a plan is a good approach to achieving your goals as quickly and efficiently as possible.
A plan should enable each team member to understand the activities and projects that they need to undertake personally, and as a group, to achieve the agreed goals. Moreover, a plan enables all team members to co-ordinate their activities, which makes reaching goals faster and easier.
There are different ways of creating a plan. Two options for you to consider are:
The manager (or a small group) decides what steps and activities the team as a whole and each person on the team are going to undertake.
You will need to define how to do the activity, when and with what resources.
Another approach is to set the goals and then ask the team to produce the plan of how to get there. You may need to facilitate and coach the team during this process. Try to put your views forward last. You can often avoid doing this altogether by asking the right questions for the team to answer. Again, this approach generates a lot more buy in from the team. It can also give you a better plan as each “expert” in their area has inputted into the plan.
There are other approaches too, and which you use will depend on the situation. For example, if there is a crisis, using the first approach to manage the team through the change will get to a result quicker (but not necessarily better).
Whatever approach you use, make sure you have a plan in place, so each team member understands their part in implementing the changes and they have a roadmap or blueprint explaining HOW they are going to do this.
Assign tasks, responsibilities, milestones, individual goals (be realistic) – the fifth way to manage teams through change
Following on from the planning section and depending on the complexity of the change project you are managing, assigning goals and responsibilities at an individual level or sub-team level is likely to produce better results overall.
Taking this step gives people a clear picture of what is expected of them personally. With personal expectations and responsibilities set, you as a manager can follow up with each person and help the individuals achieve the goals set.
Without goals at an individual level or sub-team level, it is hard to track the progress and performance of individuals. Moreover, without careful management of the detail, the overall change project can slip.
If you have a large team, then make sure your direct reports are keeping an eye on the detail and managing the individual progress within the larger change project. You do need to focus on the sub team progress and follow-up regularly.
When managing teams through change, you must follow up to ensure that execution of the plans is happening.
Coach team, feedback, give direction when managing team members – the sixth way to manage teams through change
I think one of the most important jobs the manager can do with their team is to coach and mentor the team members to improve their skills and knowledge.
This is an investment for medium to long-term team performance of the team. The better the team, the easier the job of the manager. The better the team can perform, the better this reflects on the manager and the better for the team and company overall.
When coaching, you are trying to get the individual to think and solve problems. They can know more than you, yet there is lots with which you can help them.
With mentoring, you are passing on your knowledge and experience to the other person.
Give them open, honest, and useful feedback whenever possible. Make sure you praise more than you criticise. The more feedback you give that genuinely helps team members, the better they will understand what is going well and what still needs improvement. Help them work through how they will improve.
The seventh way to manage teams through change: Hold team members to account
The work you have done to set goals and expectations at team and individual level and the planning of the activities with the team to deliver the goals gives you the platform to hold your direct reports and the individual team members to account.
If you have not done this, then you can only rely on your opinion against theirs as to whether they are making appropriate progress. Opinion doesn’t come close to comparing against act-based progress. With targets and milestones, you have something to compare against and therefore hold individuals to account. Without, you don’t.
If things are not going to plan, then you must understand why things are not going to plan and then take action. You cannot ignore the issue if you want the change project delivered as planned.
There can be many reasons for slips versus plan. Some examples include:
- individuals not knowing exactly what to do
- individuals lacking skills to deliver against the planned activities
- the plan is unrealistic or has flaws which are being expose
- external factors have made delivery much harder or require more time
- capacity issues within the team are slowing delivery
- individuals have the wrong attitude or are not performing
Whatever the issues, as the manager you must ensure the team get back on track.
When the team is delivering, celebrate the success, give deserved praise, and encourage more great work. Positive reinforcement is so important.
Protect the team & manage expectations – the final way to manage teams through change
Going through a period of change requires additional effort, emotional energy and everything takes a little longer as you are learning. If you don’t protect your team, you may well find the changes are taking longer than anticipated with the same level of queries, requests, projects, etc.
During this time, it is so important as a leader or manager to protect your team as much as possible.
The business will continue to make demands of your team because it can’t stop delivering for customers. So when managing teams through change keep as many of the lower priority work, requests, projects etc. away from the team as possible.
Speak to your manager, explain the likely drop in capacity during the period of change, and what work or output you would like to delay or stop for that period. Make sure your manager is aware and happy with your plans.
Speak to all the other stakeholders of your team and explain the situation. Ask for their understanding and help during the period of change to keep any non-urgent work away from your team.
The key is to manage expectations before the period of change starts and then keep managing expectations during the period of change. Good communication and taking the time to meet regularly with stakeholders is a great way to do this.
Think about resource levels. If you have a substantial change project, then adding in temporary resources into the team to create additional capacity might be a sensible option.
Protect your team as much as possible. It will make the period of change easier and quicker.
When managing a team through change, there are many areas to cover and your job as leader or manager of the team will be just as busy as your team’s. Use the 8 key tips above to give yourself and your team the best chance of delivering change successfully AND keeping everyone as happy and motivated as possible.
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