How to create change in teams and other groups
(Time to read: ~8 minutes)
I work with people who want to learn how to communicate more effectively – so they can have better relationships and better lives. And achieve the meaningful results they want with greater ease and more fun.
One of my passions is working with teams – because I learned early in my career that the quality of our working lives has a big impact on the quality of the rest of our lives. Also, because it is just so satisfying and fun to work in a team that functions really well.
Through my roles as team leader, team participant, and trainer/coach/consultant to other teams I’ve learned some key lessons about what works and what doesn’t in creating change in teams.
What works varies somewhat depending on whether:
- The team has an official and recognized leader (e.g., manager of a work team)
- You are the official and recognized leader of the team
- You are “just” a member of the team – regardless of whether it has an official leader or not.
So I’ve organized the rest of this article along these lines.
If you are the official and recognized leader of the team
This is the easiest and quickest place from which to create change within a team. And, as you no doubt already know, it is still challenging!
1) Change starts with you
Regardless of the problems are on your team, something about what you are doing is helping to maintain the unhelpful patterns among the other team members.
Only if you change that “something” will there be sustainable change in your team.
2) You need outside support
It doesn’t necessarily need to be “professional” support.
But in order to
1 – Identify what you are doing that is contributing to your team being “stuck” in unhelpful patterns
2 – Figure out what change you can make that could start to shift things
3 – Deal with the inevitable setbacks and bumps in the road – treating them as feedback to help you define next steps
4 – Keep moving forward in a positive, productive way
you need a place and a person with whom to talk things through – to explore various options and decide what to do next.
It is vital that this person not be a member of your team.
Because doing this kind of “thinking through” with a member of your team creates inequity within the team, which is consistently detrimental to team moral and effectiveness.
3) Small, slow and steady wins the race
I’ve worked with a variety of leaders who wanted to start our work together by doing a training for their team.
It’s not a bad way to start, but many teams who have started this way have found it very hard to create sustainable change.
The teams that have been more successful in creating sustainable change started by having me work with their leader for a period of 3 to 6 months first – slowly and gradually introducing changes into the leader’s behavior.
These changes create new standards for behavior within the team. So that by the time we do a formal training, their leader is able to support the team in integrating the new behaviors from the training into their day-to-day work.
4) Address unresolved conflict
I remember a few years ago talking with some members of a team who wanted to work with me. One of them said, “We’ve had some problems in the past, but people just need to put those behind them, and start fresh.”
It would be nice if things worked like that. But my experience indicates that they don’t.
Any long-standing unresolved conflict between two or more of your team members needs to be addressed and resolved before they are going to be able and willing to consider making any other significant changes.
So after I’ve worked with the leader for a while, we explore what the long-standing conflicts are within the team (there are usually at least 2 or 3), and in what order they can best be addressed.
Resolving these long-standing conflicts takes a significant level of skill, so, especially at the beginning, we usually bring me in to do that work. The leader then uses the skills they’ve built up to ensure there is effective follow-on on the agreements that are made as part of the conflict resolution process.
5) Uphold vision, compassion, & agreements
Leadership is a constantly shifting dance of
- helping people connect to the organization and team vision and mission,
- creating an environment in which people make, change and break agreements with care and consideration for the needs of everyone involved,
- accepting and having compassion for everyone’s humanity and learning edges – including the leader’s own.
Teams in which there are problems are usually weak in at least one of these areas.
If you are “just” a member of the team or group
This is a much more challenging context in which to create change, and it generally does take longer.
But the change that gets created is typically much stronger and sustainable, because its roots go deep. So go for it! 🙂
1) Start by changing your behavior first
If you are wanting more accountability on your team, create mechanisms by which your fulfillment of agreements is consistently measured and reviewed, ideally by you and at least one other person.
Most people who do this are startled to discover that they’re not as consistent in fulfilling their agreements as they thought. Once they start improving their own performance in this area, they sometimes find that their colleagues have done the same, without anyone explicitly taking about it.
If you are wanting more compassion on your team, notice in what situations you are not compassionate (perhaps when other people are not compassionate? 🙂 Do what you need to do to even more fully “be the change” you are wanting.
Team members who are most successful in creating change demonstrate high levels of both accountability and compassion themselves.
People who’ve worked with me have often been surprised at the amount of change in others that occurred just from their enhancing their skills in these two areas.
Parts 1 and 2 of the private training I offer are designed to help you identify and make these kinds of changes.
2) Work with the official and unofficial sources of power in your team
Every team has some key people who have a powerful influence on what happens on the team.
If your team has an official and recognized source of power, it is important to work with that person, even if you don’t see them as being very effective in creating change – because they can be very effective in ensuring change does not happen.
Equally important is recognizing the people who, because of their personality, expertise, or some other factor, tend to have a significant effect on what happens (or does not happen) within the team. You need them working with you in order for change to happen.
So, once you have brought your own behavior in alignment with the change you are wanting to see, you might engage the official and unofficial sources of power in your team in one-on-one conversations about the changes they would like to see in the team, and what support they would like from you to help do that.
This is a place to slow down and take your time – to make sure you hear and work with both the spoken and unspoken messages you’re getting from these people.
You or they may be tempted to bring the whole group in to talk about these topics. In my experience, it’s too soon. It’s important to align / attune yourself and the sources of power before bringing the rest of the group into the process.
It’s like baking a cake from scratch. You don’t just throw all the ingredients in a bowl and mix them all up together. Some ingredients need to be mixed by themselves first, allowing time and space for some necessary chemical reactions to occur, before other ingredients are added.
Parts 3 and 4 of the private training I offer are designed specifically to help you prepare for and have this type of conversation in a connected and successful way.
These topics are also included in the Group Training and Mentoring Program.
3) Follow up consistently – and gently
Change is not easy. It takes effort regularly and consistently in the direction of the change you want to see.
Change also like a very young tree. It needs care and protection to survive the early stages.
It takes engaging people in agreements, and then following up to see if the agreements are working for everyone.
It takes addressing broken agreements in an effective and compassionate way, which many people describe as the most difficult thing for them to deal with.
That’s why I’ll be including a new training module on this topic as part of the monthly Group Training & Mentoring Program, which starts next week – accessible from anywhere by computer and phone.
4) Engage support for yourself
Just like the leader who wants to create change, you’ll need times and spaces to talk things through.
And people have consistently found that it’s just too dangerous to do this with colleagues in the team or organization they’re part of.
It is human nature to want to tell other people about things we’ve heard and our thoughts and opinions about that. So whoever you talk things through with is probably going to want to do this with the people around them.
If the people around them are your work colleagues, all the careful preparation you are putting into creating effective and sustainable change can be blown to smithereens by a chain of “broken telephone” through the organization.
So your support for creating change is also most likely to be someone outside the organization itself. Providing this support is something I love to do.
So is there a change you’d like to see in your team, group or organization?
You may want to consider these next steps:
- Get really clear about what you want to be different – and why you want to see that change. What needs do you imagine will be met by making that change?
- Decide what you need to do to live that change more fully yourself.
Set up a system to measure how fully you are living the change – ideally working with a colleague you trust to give you honest feedback about their perceptions of whether you are truly living the change.
- Get your support person or team in place.
They can help you refine your answers to item #1 and #2 above. And they’ll be essential to “refueling” your passion for this work when you start to “run out of gas” on it. I offer this kind of support privately, or you might consider joining the Group Mentoring Program.
- Work on “being the change” you want to see.
I have often found this a humbling experience – setting an intention, measuring my performance and discovering it’s not where I’d hoped. Then identifying what I need to focus on next – to bring my performance in line with my intention. This step may include getting training and/or coaching in the skills needed to live whatever your change is.
- Celebrate every step along the way!
Creating change takes a lot of time and effort.
Appreciate yourself for all that you are doing.
Stay connected to your vision of a better future for your team and yourself.
And enjoy the journey!
If you haven’t worked with me before, and want to check out how well we “click” before scheduling a private session, click here