Change is inevitable in both life and business. So if you provide leadership to teams or groups in an organisation or company a significant part of your time will involve supporting them in the design, implementation and review of a range of challenging change initiatives. If you already fulfil a leadership role you will have realised that this is no easy task as there can be any number of dynamics at play.
To begin with, many teams or groups when confronted with change may think firstly about what they need to give up. These ‘sacrifices’ may be something merely perceived or indeed may be real. Either, to begin with can prove problematic.
Within workplace settings when dealing with the topic of change, both teams and groups are effected. Lets take a moment to briefly examine the two. Thornton (2016) explains that all teams are groups but not all groups are teams. For example, a learning group is brought together for the specific purpose of learning and members are unlikely to be close colleagues e.g. managers from sales, customer support and engineering departments. Teams on the other hand, typically have shared goals and tasks and vary in terms of size and/or longevity. Perhaps you can think of a variety of groups and teams within your own organisation?
Now in terms of any proposed workplace change, employees may feel awkward or self-conscious when they consider how it might effect them. ‘What will happen if I dont know how to carry out my new role’? or even worse, ‘the new change might result in me losing my job’! Some groups will feel isolated, others worry that they don’t have adequate resources while others will revert to their old behaviour patterns if the change isn’t consistently reinforced. Vansina (2013) spoke of transitional processes for groups which include relinquishing dysfunctional but still valued roles and ideas; discovering new more adaptive ideas and ways of behaving and coping with the instability of the changing conditions both outside and within the organisation. The challenge for leaders is to support individuals, teams and groups as they transition through these stages.
Perhaps it is a newly established project team, tasked with implementing a particular new strategy. In such circumstances, each new member before being able to focus on the collective task needs to resolve the following problems. In terms of identity and role, who am I supposed to be in this group? Will I have sufficient influence and control? In terms of individual need, will the groups needs allow me to meet my own? Finally, on the topics of acceptance and intimacy, will I be accepted and respected? An effective leader needs to be mindful of such issues and attempt to satisfy them by working collaboratively with the project team from the outset.
Effective change can occur for groups when members have some level of predictability, opportunities for new experiences in supportive settings and see the change as helpful rather than threatening. Also, when individuals truly feel part of the wider group and are involved in designing and driving the change. Sandler (2011) believes that it can be useful in such cases for the leader to reframe the group members ‘problem in a way that can move their own perceptions and thinking forward’. For example, where a group feels unappreciated they could be asked ‘how could you demonstrate more effectively the value of your contribution’?
It is important to remember that all workplaces consist of a set of explicit rules that prescribe the way in which employees behave. These rules reflect mental models such as shared beliefs through which employees make sense of their experiences. This provides a sense cohesiveness and belonging so that they feel part of something larger than themselves. Positive in the main, however what is essential is that these mental models need to be open to change if they are to be effective in adapting to the ever changing external environment. The need to maintain a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset is essential for human development.
So too, can the informal organisational or company culture influence any attempt to implement change. Who are the real power brokers here and who needs to assist in driving the new change? This ‘shadow system’ is sometimes used to describe the more intangible aspects of organisational life but can significantly influence individual and group behaviour. This may be evident in how employees speak to one another or their behaviour towards customers/clients; also how resources, responsibility or blame are shared. Schein (2010) states that ‘behaviour change alone will not last unless it is accompanied by cognitive redefinition’. This is where a coaching approach to leadership can assist in supporting others in working through change, influencing its design and implementation and in turn leading to cognitive redefinition and subsequently lasting behaviour change. Alternatively, an external professional coach can assist also in this regard through group facilitation or executive coaching.
Learning can be achieved through experimentation in a climate where risk taking and trying new ideas is encouraged and supported. Yukl and Lepsinger (2004) outlined certain guidelines for facilitating collective learning such as encouraging people to experiment with new approaches, active sharing of ideas, after action reviews and identifying lessons learned. How open is your organisation to risk taking? Are failures viewed as genuine learning opportunities or is their a climate of blame and scapegoating? Does your organisation have an appetite for emergent change as the needs of customers and clients evolve at a rapid rate and competitors redesign their own systems and structures as they attempt to gain the competitive edge?
Leaders should also always remember that the group or team is but one part of a larger system. In today’s business environment, globalisation while providing us with extraordinary opportunity, has added to the level of complexities from a leadership perspective. Varied cultural perspectives, challenges in communication, potential timing issues, the varied needs of different demographic groups e.g. baby boomers vs generation x, etc. Within all of this, todays leaders must co-create a climate where diversity is appreciated and shared values are nurtured. Those companies and organisations that are most successful understand that their work is not merely a transactional monetised process but rather that its shared values connect at deeper level with those that use their services and/or purchase their products.
There’s a need to also consider that individual members of the group or team may have different learning styles. Kolb referred to the activist, the reflector, the theorist and the pragmatist. The effective leader can combine a variety of activities within the process to cater for the learning needs of each member whilst also encouraging them to explore those learning styles that they have tended to avoid to date. Unfortunately, many leaders themselves are unaware of their own preferred learning style let alone the preferences of those around them. Are you truly aware of your own preferred learning style? Progress begins with self awareness and then with the taking of responsibility to improve ourselves intentionally, both individually and collectively
Each leader should also consider Belbins team roles theory where group members will assume various roles such as the ‘plant’ who contributes ideas, the ‘resource investigator’ who looks for information and resources or the ‘shaper’ who seeks clarification and objectives. There is also the ‘monitor evaluator’ who seeks to analyse, the ‘specialist’ who focuses on the task or the ‘implementer’ who offer practical common sense. So too, the ‘team worker’ who provides support for colleagues, the ‘completer’ who checks for loose ends and the ‘coordinator’ who draws contributions together. Through adapting our leadership style to one of coaching it allows us to raise awareness within each individual as to the role that they typically adopt and how this in turn influences their interactions and decision making. Employees can be then be supported and encouraged to try alternative roles in the group without fear of embarrassment or ridicule.
Understanding the concept of how a group develops can be very useful. A five stage model that evolves from forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning has been developed and provides a useful theoretical frame work. Such an understanding can assist in understanding where the leader is with the particular group and why they might be behaving in certain ways. Similarly, Schein (2010) articulates the idea of group evolution which goes through four stages including group formation, building, group work and finally group maturity
In order to meet such challenges, more and more leaders are adopting a coaching style when interacting with others. This approach which can be taught, is then carried out in formal supervision sessions, in group or team meetings and in day to day conversations. It is a powerful way to reduce anxiety, raise awareness and empower employees to individually and collectively discover their own solutions.
If you are interested in learning more about coaching approaches to leadership reach out to us today. create10 provides a range of client services including leadership development, team performance and innovation workshops. One to one executive coaching and a range of flexible online courses are also available at www.create10.ie
Sandler, C. (2011) ‘Executive Coaching – A psychodynamic Approach’, New York, Open University Press.
Schein, E. (2010) ‘Organisational Culture and Leadership’, San Francisco, Jossey Bas
Thornton, C. (2016) ‘Group and Team Coaching, the Secret Life of Groups’, London, Routledge.
Vansina, L. (Eds.) (2013) ‘Humanness in organisations – A Psychodynamic Contribution’, London, Karnac.
Yukl, G. & Lepsinger, R. (2004) ‘Flexible Leadership’, San Francisco, Wiley & Sons