Career Woman

Guiding your team through transitions


Let’s start with the bad news – more than 65% of people really don’t like change.

But, here’s the best news – you can guide people (including yourself!) through changes, difficulties, and major transitions. You can bring people together instead of driving them apart. You can ensure excitement instead of dread. You can lead your team through hard times so that they come out the other side more powerful than ever before. What is this witchcraft, you ask?

Transitions are predictable

A few years ago, I was researching why change was so difficult in organizations, and I stumbled across a concept that has revolutionized the way I think about transitions – even seemingly miserable ones.

People move through transitions in predictable ways.

That might not seem revelatory, but it blew my mind. If I can foresee and understand the transitions that people go through, then I can better guide them through it. I know when to not provide critical new information. I know when to challenge them with new ideas, or challenge them to be innovative. I know when to push and when to let them spin.

I’ll outline the phases very briefly for you here, but I encourage you to learn much more about this in my new book: iX Leadership: Create High-Five Cultures and Guide Transformation.

  1. After a change event occurs – whether it be a merger, a layoff, an expansion, an office move, a new hire – there is a time of withdrawal. We often see this expressed in a refusal to accept the new, a yearning for the old, and a downturn in productivity. This is especially common when a big merger or acquisition occurs. From a financial point of view, this can be a huge impact on your company which in turn affects your employees. This WallStreet Prep guide on mergers and acquisitions has all the details about such a venture, and you can use it to educate your staff so they have the reassurance and feel safe.
  2. Let Go: Through the withdrawal phase, the person is leading up to Letting Go. Letting Go is really a moment, a decision point, where the person decides that they have to release what they are holding onto.
  3. Innovation: The best and most exciting part of a change transition is the Innovation Phase. It’s when your people are the most open to new ideas, can contribute with their own creativity, and reform a stronger and more powerful team.
  4. New Normal: The teams starts making active decisions to move them toward a new normal. Without guidance, this new normal can be worse than the old ways of doing things, so it’s vital for leaders to have a strong, well-communicated, vision for the future.

Differential velocity

I’m sure you’ve noticed that not everyone deals with change the same way. Some people seem to love the drama that change provides, while others dig their heels in with all their might against anything new.

It’s not that these people aren’t going through the transition as noted above, they just move through the transition at differential speeds.

In addition, there are teams, groups, organizations in constant change paradigms. It’s important to note that this is their “normal” state. Although they might seem adept at change, generally, big events outside their realm of familiarity will still throw them.

How do you determine which people will move through change easily, and who will struggle?

Chaos- vs. order-tolerant

Guiding a team through change is complex, but we start with assessing the Culture Types you have in your organization.

A factor of Culture Type assessment is who among your team prefer Order and who prefer Chaos. (Those of us who love Chaos tend to call it Freedom.)

Order-Tolerant folks tend to prefer a predictable routine. They like knowing what to expect day-to-day. They will generally say that they dislike “drama,” which in their life tends to be anything that feels disorderly.

The Chaos-Tolerant tend to enjoy minor disruptions to their day, a new challenge, a new problem. They also tend to see outside their primary role to problem-solve issues that cross-cut with other areas.

If you can group your people into Order-Tolerant and Chaos-Tolerant Types, then you’re a long way to determining who will suffer the most through a difficult or transitory time.

Order-Tolerant teams will have a longer withdrawal period, but once they make the jump to the new normal, they will stay there. You will need more patience up front, keep reiterating the new visions, and explain why the change is important.

Chaos-Tolerant types will have shorter withdrawal phases, and they can have a long innovation phase, which you can determine as the leader. They will generally move through the entire transition faster than Order-Tolerant types. You will need to establish the new vision early, or encourage your team to innovate.

Order-Tolerant team members will think Chaos-Tolerant folks are impetuous, and Chaos-Tolerant people will consider Order-Tolerant teammates roadblocks. It’s up to you to lead both types as well as their interaction.

This is only one aspect of how we assess teams, but it will get you started and provide some essential tools to help you guide your team through even the more difficult transitions.

Transition essentials

  1. People move through change in predictable phases.
  2. Different people move through the transition at different velocities.

Order-Tolerant and Chaos-Tolerant types affect how you approach guiding the team through transitions.

About Dr. Rachel Headley

Dr. Rachel MK Headley knows how to get things done. She has been in the trenches, dealing with unspoken conversations, barriers to team goals and success, and figuring out how to achieve seemingly impossible goals demanded by executive leadership. As she rose through the ranks at a global satellite mission (from intern to satellite scientist to Operational Science Officer), she managed big projects, united diverse stakeholders, guided teams through change, and led complex and ground-breaking achievements. Now, as a Senior Partner at Rose Group Int’l, she is part of a team who is determined to change the way business is done across the globe. You can gain additional insight into her team-focused approach in her book: iX Leadership: Create High-Five Cultures and Guide Transformation. For more information about Rose Group Int’l, please visit Connect with Rachel @sprfsh_rachel on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

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