Minimize Change by Being a Proactive Team Leader

Change. Any business would stagnate and die without it. It happens so quickly these days and is often out of our control. Sometimes you probably feel like screaming, “Slow down, I want to get off!”

Change can make your team leader role very difficult. Many productive hours can be lost when team members duplicate effort and redo work because they don’t have the information they need. The key is to be as proactive as possible.

Why Does It Happen?

Your team may have difficulty keeping informed on critical changes because they’re not in the “center” of what’s happening in the organization. They may be located at a remote site, work different shifts, have no representation in staff meetings or informational sessions, have no access to electronic mail boards, or other forms of communication.

Or it’s possible you might be the problem. If you are unwilling to share information or only share on a “need to know” basis because you are trying to be sensitive to team overload, you could be doing more harm than good. Whatever the reason, no one likes to feel as though they are working in a fog or isolated from the rest of the organization.

What’s The Issue?

Think for a moment about what problems your team has encountered in the last six months as a result of lacking information on important business issues. Or perhaps you received information, but it was so complicated it took your team hours to decipher. Would you have done things differently if you’d known about the changes in advance?

It’s time to change the way your team receives information. Have a discussion with them about what problems they’ve encountered. The discussion should focus on specific areas for improvement based on past experiences. Use caution that the discussion doesn’t turn into a gripe session that goes nowhere. Your team needs to understand they have the power to make changes to the way they receive and react to change in the organization.

You’ve probably been involved in a discussion like the one that follows between Mary, the team leader, and two team members.

Sam: “So what’s going on with the new Miller contract? I overheard a conversation with the engineering people today and they said it was going to involve some major work.”
Mary:
“Honestly Sam, I don’t know much about it. I have been so tied up with work schedules; I haven’t had a chance to think about much else. Why are you so concerned?”
Sam:
“Well, we’ve been asked to come up with our staffing plan for next year and I’d like to know how this contract will affect our resource requirements. It’s kind of difficult to plan when you don’t know what’s coming down the line.”
Joe:
“Sam’s right. We are all putting in a lot of overtime now. If we’re going to be hit with a huge increase in our production requirements next year, it would be nice to be able to plan for that now. We really should know more about the contract anyway — what’s it for? How long is it supposed to last? Will it impact each department the same way or will we be the only team affected? It’s really embarrassing when our customers know more about our company direction and new product lines than the employees responsible for producing them. I’m kind of tired of being the last ones to know about these kinds of things.”
Mary:
“I guess I didn’t realize how much of an issue this was for all of you. You brought up some very valid points I hadn’t had time to consider. Would you be willing to provide me with a list of your concerns about the contract? I’ll discuss it in the next staff meeting and give you an update next week.”

Sound familiar? Most of your team members would probably agree that Sam’s concern is a valid one. And have you ever been in the situation Joe has described? How do you feel when you’re not aware of what’s happening within the company? Often it can make you feel like a victim of change, powerless over the direction the team is moving in. How do you feel about Mary’s response? It’s easy to place blame on the team leader. Many times the team leader doesn’t share information because they don’t think the team will be impacted or that team members care to know.

So, whose responsibility is it to keep team members informed of organization and business changes? It’s important that each team member understand his or her responsibility in searching out information and sharing it with the team. The team leader isn’t the only person that should be
keeping the team informed.

How Do You Deal With It?

Your team needs to take responsibility for making sure they have the information they need. Here’s an easy process to use to identify what areas to focus on and how to deal with the information so your team can be proactive about those things that affect them.

  • Identify Changes That Could Impact Your Team — A useful starting point for understanding change is to identify the types of changes that could significantly impact your team. Then describe how the changes could affect your team’s performance. In this step, each team member should identify the business changes they need to know and understand, and to identify the potential impact of that information to the team.
  • Identify What Information The Team Needs — Information on organizational and business changes is usually available in a number of forms. Does your company publish a company-wide or departmental newsletter that discusses anticipated changes? Are there bulletin boards around your company that have information posted on them? Is there a general meeting with the leadership where company changes are reviewed? In this step, you’ll identify what information you’d like to have and who can provide it.
  • Make The Information Simple To Understand — Many times information is readily available to teams, but not easily understood in the form it has been presented. Have you have ever felt you were speaking a foreign language when talking with someone from a different group in your company? In this step, you’ll identify which types of information are not usually available in user-friendly form and what action could be taken to make the information easier to interpret.
  • Getting The Information Your Team Needs — Ask team members to identify actions that can be taken to gain more information. Challenge them to identify actions they can take and those that can be recommended to others outside of your team.
  • Turn It Into Action — Review the list of suggestions and conduct a discussion with the team to identify the most feasible suggestions to implement. Assign ownership of each suggestion and identify a due date for status to the team as well as completion of the suggested action. Determine a schedule for periodically reviewing each issue.

Staying on top of changes by breaking them down into small pieces and sharing the responsibility between team members will help your team feel in control and more “on top” of what’s happening in your company.

What steps are you taking to make sure your team is in the know?

Denise O'Berry

Denise O’Berry — aka the Team Doc — has been working with teams and team leadership in the public, non profit and private sectors for over twenty years. She gets a lot of joy from working with teams and their leadership to help them improve and work through team issues. Not only does her advice come from the heart, it comes from years of experience working as a team member, team leader, manager and owner of her own company. She has truly walked in your shoes and offers help so you can be a better team leader. You can find more advice from Denise at her website askteamdoc and don't forget to follow her on Twitter @askteamdoc.

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