5 ways to motivate your team during change

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It was Hercalitus who said, “Nothing is permanent except change” – and that was 2,500 years ago!

But it seems to me that even in 2,500 years, lots of people still struggle with managing change – whether that’s the chief executive of a large organisation, or a junior member of a team, or a customer who doesn’t want to go from analog ways of contacting to digital.

If you lead a team that is going through (or about to go through) some changes, then here are five ways to keep them motivated:

1.Understand that everyone is different…one size does not fit all – I still see sheep dip approaches to motivation applied by too many leaders and managers. Your job is to take the time to understand what each person in your team likes and doesn’t like. This includes how they prefer to be told what’s going on. This has come up in sessions with coaching clients in the past – where they expect their staff to adapt to their style of leadership. It doesn’t quite work like that, I’m afraid. You need to adapt to them and all their quirks.

A great way to understand difference and how this might manifest during change is to use a tool like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or Belbin Team Roles.

2.Use different communication methods – Continuing from the previous bit of advice, recognise that different people prefer different levels of detail delivered in different ways. Part of this relies on you recognising your own preferences. So, if you tend to rely on email, then push yourself out of your comfort zone and do more face to face communicating. That also means face-to-face on a team and individual one-to-one basis. There will be some members of the team who have questions or points to make but might not feel comfortable doing so in front of their team mates.

And remember, you can’t communicate too much. Avoid the trap of not saying anything when nothing much has happened. Know the phrase, “Nature abhors a vaccum”? Well, never is this truer than when there is radio silence from leadership. If nothing has happened or there is no new news, you need to tell your team that – rather than assuming they’ll simply know that. They won’t. 

3.Block out time for team building activity during change – I’ve seen lots of leaders put this kind of thing on hold during change, under the mistaken belief that it’s better to wait until things have settled down before doing “this team stuff”. Wrong! If ever there was a more important time to spend time focusing on goals, performance and how you all work together, it’s during change. If you’re part of a change programme that’s going to impact the team for a substantial amount of time (i.e. six months or more) then you should really be blocking out team building sessions every two months during this time.

An example of an agenda would include a look back on achievements in the past quarter (with recognition for individuals), a look forward at goals and priorities for the coming 2-3 months, and then an exploration of a topic that builds skills around handling change such as personal resilience.

4.Know who your influencers are – Who are the people in your team who others listen to? Who wields a level of influence, even if they don’t necessarily have positional power? If you know who they are, great. If not, you need to find out asap. In my experience, these individuals can be the difference between change being a success and firmly embedding, or not (and in some instances, undermining any change and demotivating the rest of the team). Find out who they are and work with them.

One approach I’ve seen work countless times is the setting up of a working group to help implement changes in a team. Making your influencers part of any working group and giving them key roles, such as giving feedback on your communications before they go out to the wider team, can be a great way to get them on board.

5. Recognise that not everyone will be a cheerleader and that’s okay – another trap I’ve seen many leaders fall in to is the expectation that everyone (and I mean everyone) in their team must 100% be on board with the change. This is unrealistic and dangerous. Challenge is good. Challenge can help improve change plans for the better. Expecting everyone to be on board at the same time to the same degree is a fast track to demotivating a team. People will feel like you’re not respecting or listening to their views – some of which may be extremely valid.

Creating a blog as a way of capturing comments, concerns and ideas is one way I’ve seen leaders effectively learn about and embrace different views during change. It’s also an opportunity to capture in one place your responses to your staff. This has the added bonus of showing a large number of people that you respect different views, and where an idea around the change can’t be taken on board and the reasons why. 

Motivating a team, particularly a large one, can be tough enough when things are okay. Multiply it by 1000 during times of change. You’ll need to put even more effort in to keep your team motivated. Do this and not only will performance remain high but you’re more likely to keep your most talented people too. Surely that makes the effort worth it?

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