5 Steps to Mending Divided Teams

Published: January 28, 2016

Leadership transitions stir anxiety in the workforce. Often, it's not disagreement with strategic philosophy that makes teams uneasy, but the simple fear of change. Even when the organization isn’t healthy, it’s easier to normalize the pain than it is to brace for transformation. A typical coping maneuver is to create factions within the team. Choose your side by the way you expend energy – adapting to new circumstances or trumpeting how horrible it is that we’re not who we used to be.

It’s not unusual to see merged businesses continue to struggle with old-guard/new-guard issues even a decade after acquisition. When you ask someone why they won’t collaborate, they often cite an “us and them” theme as the obstacle. Team assessment metrics sniff this out quickly. Workplace satisfaction surveys frequently rely on high and low averages to determine whether employees are engaged. If you dig a little deeper, standard deviation statistics unveil whether these average scores come from teams that are in unison, divided, or shaped by a few important outlier opinions.

The actions leaders take to mend divided teams are rooted in basic change management principles. To travel successfully from current state through a transition state to a desired state, teammates must:

1.       Acknowledge the value and inevitability of the change.

2.       Celebrate, let go, and mourn the “way it used to be.”

3.       Embrace the temporary discomfort associated with re-investing in something unknown.

4.       Collaborate in the clarification and restatement of the team’s philosophy, mission, values, and vision.

5.       Hold each other accountable to the future the team just created.

Transition, by its nature, leverages the value of struggle to push growth. Every teammate will eventually come along for the ride either enthusiastically or kicking and screaming. In time, a new normal settles in until, of course, the natural cycle of change reboots the process.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.