Managing a team through change

Many teams are experiencing significant change. As a result of the events of 2020. Change within teams presents a perennial challenge. Team membership is always fluid, goals and objectives need to be revisited, projects and focuses come and go.

The current context for teams is more turbulent than ever. The threat or reality of redundancies, restructuring and shifting priorities are more present now than they have been for a number of years. This makes it even more important to look after your team’s health. Even if you are a team member, line manager, business leader or a professional who supports teams in their development and performance.

I want to give you some practical tips to help check in on the health of your team. In doing this, I’ll be letting you know about the secret sauce we use at Strengthscope when we’re supporting teams on their journey towards sustainable high performance.

Secret sauce that helped one of our clients. They achieved an overall 65% improvement in performance over a 16 month period across 8 senior teams.

Here’s some of the results;

  • Strengthening clarity of team purpose,
  • the teams’ ability to have honest conversations,
  • ability to make high quality decisions
  • to hold each other to account.

My tips for successfully managing a team through change are:

  • know and utilise your strengths
  • limit your risks
  • ensure you have clarity of goals, roles and responsibilities
  • trust each other to be honest and to deliver
  • each member of the team behaves responsibly and is accountable
  • the team knows how to ready itself for change
  • continuous improvement in the team becomes a way of life

OK, enough intro. Let’s get to the practicals. I’m going to give you an actual question you can ask when leading a team through change to find out how they’re doing and how they might be able to improve.

Know your strengths

Our strengths are those qualities which energise us and which we are great at or could be great at. In a team setting, this works in two ways – at the individual and team level.

If you’re going to know and use your individual strengths as a team you need a common framework to ensure you are all talking the same language, even if the ways in which you each use your strengths are very different.

At Strengthscope, we encourage individuals to offer their strengths into the team. We do this in as concrete a way as possible so that others can benefit from them.

For example, someone might offer their Relationship-building strength to give advice on how to better connect with customers. Someone else might give up their Courage strength to help others face difficult conversations. We do this on a monthly basis at team meetings and at the start of each internal meeting. We ask ‘which strengths will you bring to this meeting and why?’ We review the value each strength brought at the end of the meeting.

In a team context, you should also look at team strengths overall. What do I mean by this? Well, I mean those strengths shared widely across the team as well as those not so well represented. The distribution of strengths throughout a team can make a difference to the way a team behaves.

When you have dominance of a particular strength or a particular cluster of strengths, such as Thinking strengths or Relational strengths, it can help explain why the team is energised by certain activities.

Relational teams typically love to connect and talk and discuss. Thinking teams will love a crunchy problem to solve. Knowing the distribution of strengths in your team can help you understand why the team behaves as it does under normal circumstances.

It also helps you see how to better draw on the diversity of strengths. And how to get best use from the dominant strengths.

For example, a highly Relational team (all about the talk and discussion and connection) can be catalysed by an Execution strength like Results focus – pointing all that great energy for connecting towards an outcome. Knowing who to go to, to get the best from the team can be transformative.

Know your Strengths:

To get a sense of how well your team is doing this already, you can ask two questions (of the whole team):

  • How well does the rest of the team know and use your strengths day to day?
  • Which strength would you love to use more?

When leading through change, particularly when a team is new or has a few new team members, doing this regularly is really important. It allows you to keep on top of the changing strengths in the team and keep pointing those strengths towards the team’s goals and purpose.

Limit your risks

Like strengths, the risks I’m talking about here happen at both individual and at team level.

Risks come in two main flavours – strengths in overdrive and drainers.

Strengths in overdrive typically show up when either a person or the whole team are under pressure or stress. When you know your strengths, you’re halfway towards identifying strength in overdrive risks.

Personally, I know that when I’m under pressure I can become critical and too self-reliant. I retreat into trusting myself when it would be more helpful to reach out to others. I then end up feeling more stress because I feel isolated. So, in a team context, I want my colleagues to watch out for that (as well as me self-monitoring) and call me out if they see it happening.

Ideally, everyone in the team would be doing that. But that requires a certain level of disclosure and trust to work well.  Based on experience, I will first start with strengths. Then move the conversation to risk areas. Starting with risks can put people on the back foot.

Drainers are those areas of work. Those qualities, which if you’re asked to call on them too much will drain your energy. For me, that’s writing plans, ticking things off a list and keeping my emotions in check. Doing any of those things too much drains me.

I’d want my team to know this about me so they can spot it and support me in those areas when I need it. That’s what we recommend for teams we work with too. But again, you need to be ready for those conversations. So start with strengths as a way of moving into perhaps more sensitive areas.

At the team level, you’re looking at a whole other level of risk. Consider for example a Decisiveness strength shared by many members of a team. But not used in service of the team. Instead, Decisiveness is used individually by team members to further their own individual agendas.

Under pressure, that’s how that collective strength could get into overdrive territory. The team just splinters and everyone goes and looks after their own stuff. When you know that about your team, you can spot it while it’s still in a good place. Make sure you’re pointing it towards getting a good outcome. In the case of Decisiveness, that might mean the team comparing their views on a topic and keeping up momentum by making a collective decision that benefits the team overall.

A team with areas that drain them is a team that may not go there. Even if it would be beneficial to do so. For example, a team with a Compassion drainer may miss the impact of their decisions at an emotional level on stakeholders or customers.

A team with a Detail drainer may not get things completed to a high enough quality level. They just don’t find that stuff energising. In these cases, seek out these super-useful minority strengths either within the team or beyond. Use your strengths to compensate for the ones you don’t. Again, awareness is the first step to building sustainable high performing teams.

Limit your risks:

To get a read on the risks in your team, ask:

  • What do you see as the internal challenges that might get in the way of this team’s success?
  • What patterns do you see in our team’s behaviour that might be limiting our performance?

This way you’ll get to understand how people are seeing those risks individually and collectively.
With a new or changed team, it’s worth asking what challenges the team feel might get in the way of success. Then make a plan to get around those challenges.

OK, so those two areas of strengths and risks are big and for many teams. Yhey are simply unknowns. They don’t get enough attention or development because they are hidden. When you are considering a new team, or a team that has experienced recent trauma or change, start by getting aware and then you can channel that energy in a more helpful direction.

Now, I want to come on to team behaviour and rituals. I’ll give you some pointers on how to make sure your team is set up for success by building good habits at any stage of a team’s development. Including when a team is experiencing change.

Team behaviour to successfully manage a team through change:

  • clarity
  • trust
  • accountability
  • change-readiness
  • continuous improvement.

1. Clarity

The first area is to ensure that the team has clarity.

Clarity of purpose, roles, responsibilities and objectives. During change, what might have been crystal clear can become muddied along the way. Even if the team’s objectives and moving parts remain as relevant as they once were. In this case, restating and recommitting to the goals and roles can help.

Often during change, these elements of how a team functions can shift significantly. Goals may change along with a business’s priorities. Events of 2020 have brought that into sharp focus with teams having to reprioritise their activity to meet the changing context of the pandemic.

Roles and responsibilities will also need to change. Even a team’s purpose can shift. Clarity needs to be brought regularly to all these areas.

Exercise around Clarity

How do you lead change with Clarity? To see where your team is at on clarity. This will start the conversation to move the team towards clarity. Ask them to do the following:

  • Write down the purpose of the team 
  • Write down the team’s goals individually
  • Then compare the answers. 

2. Trust

Secondly, in order for teams to deliver high performance, people in the team need to develop a certain level of trust.

This means that team members feel safe to be vulnerable. To own their mistakes and to feel trusted to deliver on the commitments they’ve made. To do this well, they need a good understanding of what each other does, who they can call on for help and what they are being asked to deliver individually.

They need to be prepared to give and receive feedback. Allow them to air their views openly without fear of reprisal. To effectively lead a team during times of change, set some ground rules for behaviour. This will help everyone understand what is ok and what is not ok in team meetings, team communication and personal commitments.

Managing change effectively around Trust

To gauge your team stage around trust, ask them:

  • How comfortable are they about asking for help?
  • How confident they are about knowing where to get support from within the team?

This will help you benchmark the current levels of trust in the team. Then ask them what, specifically they could each do to improve the current levels of team trust.

3. Accountability

As a team moves through stages of development, it should become more comfortable with holding people to account for below-par performance and to take action to deal with it openly, fairly and professionally. This needs team members to believe that colleagues will do what they say they will do.

It also means ensuring there is a mechanism in place for dealing with poor performance quickly. To ensure the whole team is not negatively affected. When leading through change it’s vital that a simple process for performance management exists and is used so that the team can continue to perform well.

How to lead a team through change with Accountability:

To get a sense of where your team is on accountability ask:

  • How confident each team member is, on a scale of 1-10, that other team members will implement agreed decisions, even when agreement was hard to reach
  • How they feel the team could get closer to a 10 in the next 30 days.

4. Change readiness

During times of change, teams need to be prepared to adopt a solutions focus, rather than look to apportion blame. They need to be vigilant in scanning the landscape for disruptive risks. Make sure everyone is engaged with changes, even if not fully on board. Tools such as SWOT and PESTLE analysis can be helpful to ensure the team is well prepared for disruptive change.

How to lead change – Change readiness

How change-ready is your team? Ask them how quickly they feel the team deals with uncertainty and setbacks? Get a sense of the following;

  • Is more of a focus on analysing the situation and finding solutions?
  • Or being stuck in what has worked before
  • Or laying blame elsewhere without looking for a way forward.

5. Continuous Development

Finally, consider how the team can continuously develop.

To do this, everyone in the team needs to be open to feedback from customers and stakeholders.  The team should also be prepared to regularly carry out ‘lessons learned’ activities. Team is tasked with identifying the good things and the not so good things. Means that scenarios have led to a success or a failure for the team.

Leading through change for continuous development

This will give you a strong sense of whether the team is committed to learning and improving. Plus tell you if they prefer to focus on maintaining their current position. In short, whether there is a growth or fixed mindset approach within the team.

Ask the team:

  • How often do they celebrate success together?
  • How was that success achieved?


In summary, to effectively lead your team through changing times and start building good team habits you need to:

  1. Know and use team strengths (individual and team)
  2. Limit risks
  3. Ensure you have clarity on the important stuff
  4. Create an environment where the team can develop trust
  5. Ensure team members behave responsibly and are held accountable
  6. Make sure the team knows how to ready itself for change
  7. Make continuous improvement a habit

I hope you find this seven step change leadership plan useful. It’s the way we do it at Strengthscope. We have seen exceptional results across our clients because of it.

Till next time, stay strong. And keep using your strengths!