Two Things I Learned About Change from our Last Team Engagement Session

Change is hard. The capacity to impact people or systems is something we all do on a daily basis. If you’re like most people, you probably wish you knew how to influence those people in ways that were more effective and less prone to breed conflict.

John Kotter, the author of the quintessential book on change, Leading Change, famously said,

“Tradition is a powerful force.”

In other words, people want to keep doing what they’ve been doing because either it works or the process of changing is of greater perceived difficulty than maintaining the broken status quo.

At Leadership Vision, we approach the process of change by looking at it through the lens of Strengths. Knowing your Strengths doesn’t necessarily make the process of change any faster or easier, but most often, it does make it go a little smoother. This is because knowing Strengths asks everyone to examine their responses to change and understand the perspectives of others.

Recently Sara and I led a team engagement session on the topic of change. Below are a few of my reflections from that session, as well as the two questions we ask everyone to answer before moving through change. Not only are there a few light-bulb moments but we share excellent reminders for all of us trying to influence positive change in our organizations.

Question 1. How Do You Respond to Change?

To start our session, I asked everyone to get up and change seats. Watching their reactions was a perfect transition into talking about this topic. Once we were all seated again, I asked people how they felt about this sudden “change.”

Most felt a little uneasy. Participants didn’t know why I was asking them to change seats and didn’t like the idea of moving into the “unknown.” For others, they welcomed the change of scenery and the opportunity to sit by a new person.

As we debriefed this experience, it mirrored the way most people in the group respond to “real” change in their lives. The participants said this little activity (and the accompanying conversation surrounding it) were extremely helpful because they could better understand how and why their peers reacted when asked to do a task they weren’t expecting.

It also revealed that some people feel very out of character when being asked to do something without being given any instructions. Nearly all of the participants said that had I given them more details about “why” they were asked to move, the details of how long it would take, if they should bring their stuff, etc., it wouldn’t have been an issue.

The big take away for the leader of this group (and myself as well) was that this team is far more open to change when expectations are clear. We also learned that change isn’t bad. In fact, most people on this team welcomed change if it was tied to the mission of the organization. Sara and I discussed this idea and thought that too often leaders may do a good job considering various obstacles, but fail to communicate those things down through the ranks adequately.

Question 2. When Are You Most Comfortable with Change?

The second activity we did was to find out when people like to engage with change. I again asked the group to get up, and this time, go into one of three corners of the room. The corners represented the time at which they are most comfortable with change.

  • Before change happens – the brainstorming and vision casting phase.
  • During the change process – the implementation and integration phase.
  • After the change process – the sustaining and adopting phase.

During our session, I was surprised to see which participants selected which stage of the change process. It’s important to note that there wasn’t an obvious, “these Strengths like this part of the change process” conclusion to draw. There was someone with the Theme of Discipline in each area. As they explained why they chose each corner, I could see how their Strengths helped each of them, at different times in the process.

This activity came into immediate relevance for the group. Later in the afternoon, we sat with the leadership team as they were talking about the best ways to start a significant change process. Out of the six members of the group, two identified as being most comfortable in the “before” part of the change process. This gave the team leader something to think about and openly address what was needed for the others to buy in.

Your Change

What are the most significant obstacles to change in your organization? If you are in a leadership role, make sure you are giving your people plenty of communication about what you plan to change. Even if it seems like you are over communicating, chances are you’re not! Also, when it comes time to engage others in the process of change, who are the people who like the before part? How can you enlist their help to ensure the rest of the team is onboard?

We’d love to hear your thoughts, and offer any help we can on your change efforts. Leave us a comment below, or drop us an email here.