When Change Isn’t Managed

Published: October 21, 2019

When we are able to be our best selves, we manage change with maturity. We acknowledge what has been lost and wrap our brains around the new conditions. We take some time to lick our wounds and then figure out what to do about the transition. We bring our best coping skills to the team and try our best to do nothing that might get us stuck or set us back. In a perfect world, the stress of the change doesn’t turn us into a child. Occasionally, these best intentions break down. Here’s what that looks like.

The tasks of managing change effectively are simple. They require some distancing as teammates step back to gain perspective on the situation. Begin with mourning the loss. Since this depletes energy, find a way to refuel. Once refueled, refocus on the new circumstances, whatever they may be. Depending on the gravity of the change, these tasks may be easier said than done. If you move forward without having done them, you inherit the pain into the next stage of the team’s lifespan.

The stage that follows distancing requires reinvestment in the team’s norms, values and direction. This stage is ripe for disagreement since teammates are still emotionally raw. Unless there is a common goal supported by healthy norms, differences of opinion can send the team into “us vs. them” factions.

The stage that follows investment requires trust. Trust is the consequence of respect, connection and accountability. If disrespect or lack of accountability is tolerated, any fractures in the team will be magnified. This can undermine the foundation of psychological safety required for teammates to stretch themselves and make creative contributions.

The stage that follows trust enables innovation. It is highly unlikely that a teammate will be willing to serve up a novel idea when he or she has been punished in the past for thinking differently. Discovery is only possible when team norms embrace diversity and change. Otherwise, the energy of the team is consumed in keeping things the same, whether that’s healthy or sick.

Healthy teams understand the continuous nature of change. They accept the discomfort that accompanies coping in exchange for the energy that comes from renewal. Rather than reactively enduring change, they proactively invite transformation. They concede what’s been lost and adopt its replacement. They clarify new direction and hold themselves accountable for professionalism. They use collaboration as a platform for growth and invite the next round of changes their exploration ignites.

The consequences of resisting change last far beyond the moment of the transition. Like every stage of human development, successes and failures in any stage of a team get inherited into the next stage. In teams, everything is delivered to the future.

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.