Managing a team through change

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Many teams are experiencing significant change as a result of the events of 2020 but 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.

This podcast focuses on what you can practically do to lead a team through change by ensuring they remain strong, fit and able to deal effectively with the challenges of change as they come up.

 

 

My name’s Dr Paul Brewerton, Founder of Strengthscope and Doctor of Psychology. I podcast each Monday to set you up for a strong week ahead. I say strong in particular because I use a strengths lens to view the challenges of work and of life, bringing science into the mix to help you make informed decisions and provide you with practical tips for your day to day. This blog is a little longer than usual because there’s quite a lot to get through. No apologies for that, I hope you find it useful.

The current context for teams is more turbulent than ever. The threat or reality of redundancies, restructure 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, whether 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 some of 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 to achieve an overall 65% improvement in performance over a 16 month period across 8 senior teams, strengthening clarity of team purpose, the teams’ ability to have honest conversations, to make high quality decisions and 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. For each element I talk about today, 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 level and at the overall 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 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 into 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?’ and 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 by a number of team members 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 and not by others.

Relational teams will 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 that exist in the team 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.

 

manging a team through change

 

Leading a team through change – 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. If you’re getting into this conversation, my advice, based on experience, is to start first with strengths and 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 and 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, because they just don’t find that stuff energising. In these cases, seek out these super-useful minority strengths either within the team or beyond, or use the strengths you do have to compensate for the ones you don’t. Again, awareness is the first step to building sustainable high performing teams.

Leading teams through change – 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, they 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 really 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 and even a team’s purpose can shift. Clarity needs to be brought regularly to all these areas.

How to lead change – Clarity:

To see where your team is at on clarity, ask them to write down the purpose of the team, as well as the team’s goals individually and then compare the answers.

That will start the conversation to move the team towards clarity.

 

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, team members 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 and air their views openly without fear of reprisal. To effectively lead a team during times of change, set some ground rules for behaviour that will help everyone understand what is ok and what is not ok in team meetings, team communication and personal commitments.

Managing change effectively – Trust:

To gauge your team stage around trust, ask team members:

  • how comfortable they are 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 so that 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 – 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 particularly prepared to take a solutions focus rather than look to apportion blame. They need to be vigilant in scanning the landscape for disruptive risks and make sure everyone is engaged, even if not fully on board, with any changes being made. 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 whether there 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 and to actively seek it if this isn’t already happening. The team should also be prepared to regularly carry out ‘lessons learned’ activities to identify the good things and the not so good things that have led to a success or a failure for the team.

Leading through change – Continuous development

Ask the team:

  • how often it gets together to celebrate success and to talk about how that success was achieved

This will give you a strong sense of whether the team is committed to learning and improving or whether it would prefer to focus instead on maintaining its current position. In short, whether there is a growth or fixed mindset approach within the team.

 

Summary

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 and we have seen exceptional results across our clients because of it.

Till next time, stay strong.

This podcast is available on all major podcast platforms. Find it on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, Stitcher, ACast, TuneInBreaker and Soundcloud. Make sure to check out the back catalogue and subscribe to get them at the start of the working week!

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