Leading Teams through Change at the Speed of Business

Hello, friends,

Several years ago, I was musing with one of my clients about organizational change when he offered a perspective that was so self-evident, it completely reframed how I think about leading change.

My client (I’ll call him Dave) and I were discussing the road blocks that kept people and departments from achieving at their highest levels in his organization. The culprit? Uncoordinated change initiatives coming from home office.

Dave indicted his own department. “What business to do I have disrupting their priorities, just to meet a timeline I created out of thin air? How do I know my change is really a higher priority than what they are working on right now?” I think he’s right. Uncoordinated, pre-emptive change can destroy momentum, slowing adoption and putting your core business processes at risk.

Sparked by Dave’s insightful questions, I drafted the May post for strategy + business, “Leading Teams through Change at the Speed of Business.” I offer 11 strategies for taking a more integrated, team-centric approach so you can accelerate adoption without losing team momentum.

Here’s a brief synopsis:

Change is no longer an event for most businesses, but a constant process. In an increasingly VUCA world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity—business executives have borrowed the military acronym), the demands on managers are enormous. For example, one leader I work with was asked to integrate new teams six times in nine months following a merger, until her department began calling themselves “the island of misfit toys.”

Many teams find themselves chasing zig-zagging priorities and can’t build the momentum they need to succeed. While our business environment and pace has changed, our approach to change hasn’t evolved with them. We still take an event-driven process and try to execute it more and more quickly. We tend to drive individual change initiatives, rather than creating the context that teams need to dispel confusion and ultimately thrive. Team-building activities are helpful, but many leaders struggle with how long that process can take, and, teams can still walk away unclear about the implications for their work.

But people generally want to commit and deliver. They get stuck in hesitation and churn when they are asked to change in ways that don’t make sense to them; when they are not convinced of the opportunity to improve; or when they feel undervalued. Leaders who create a routine for change can avoid these common pitfalls. Here are a few strategies to help teams stay engaged as the mission evolves. You can find the complete list of strategies here.

Weave changes into a narrative. Context and clarity go a long way. Connect the dots between past initiatives and what is underway now. This will help your team make sense of the bigger picture and where they fit.

Design convincing experiences. Teams move into action when they are convinced an opportunity is real. Involve employees in first-hand activities, such as field trips or customer visits, to help them see why change is needed and how they are a part of it.

Welcome questions. We often view questions as resistance, but creating an environment that is safe for questions will help your team take ownership of their new direction. You will also gain valuable insight to the team’s level of understanding and where you need to provide more context and clarity.

Clarify the economics. Creating a simple model of your key business drivers can help communicate the logic behind multiple changes and build business acumen on your team.

Sustain disciplined focus. Mock up a dashboard of the measures your team will review at regular check-ins. When new initiatives emerge, be ready to negotiate expectations with your team so you can deliver on your existing goals.

The payoff to this strategy is sustained momentum, for your team and your organization. Think of how a flock of birds changes course in mid-air: When you develop a day-to-day routine for aligning or realigning your team, you help people anticipate change and rise to the occasion. Remember the “island of misfit toys”? When the leader embraced several of these strategies, her team grew so skilled at change that they began to actively solicit mergers with other groups.

Please feel free to share your comments here, or at strategy+business, where you can view the complete article.

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty

This post is adapted with permission from an article published by Elizabeth Doty in strategy+business entitled