How to build an effective change team

Did you know there is no symbol for the word ‘change’ in the Chinese language? Instead, they use the following two symbols:

It is little wonder, therefore, that taking on responsibility for delivering change can sometimes drive fear into even the hardiest of managers.

Recognising and understanding your own strengths and weaknesses in relation to managing change can be a good place to start from. For example, you might be great at communicating with people and getting buy-in but less comfortable with the numbers side of change (my own particular weakness!)

By being honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, you’re in a good position to build the right team around you. This way you can add people to your change team who complement you and bridge any gaps in knowledge, skills or experience.



The following competencies are the main ones that I’ve found are needed to manage change effectively. When I’ve managed, worked in or supported change teams, it is having all these competencies (or the lack of) across the team that have made the difference.

Analytical thinking – the ability to understand and comfortably use the financial, employee, performance and any other data that comes your way.

Commercial thinking – the ability to understand the wider context within which the organisation is operating and the opportunities the change presents for the business.

Communication – the ability to speak and write in ways that are straightforward, easy-to-understand and compelling.

Handling ambiguity – the ability to make sense of (and help others make sense of) what is going on when there is little or no information or plan.

Handling complexity – the ability to understand and work with various organisational systems, particularly where other organisations might be affected by the change.

Influence, persuasion and negotiation– the ability to get the majority of people on board, adopting a ‘win-win’ approach

Managing relationships – the ability to build and maintain relationships with a wide range of people from all levels and parts of the organisation.

Planning and organising – the ability to ensure you and whoever else you’re working with to deliver the change get the right things done at the right time.

Resilience – the ability to handle whatever is thrown at you (but not be a pushover), bounce back and not take things personally.

Strategic thinking – the ability to keep the ‘big picture’ in mind and focus on the outcome to be achieved.


Whether this is your first time managing change, or you’re an experienced practitioner, it’s still a good idea to carry out an assessment on yourself against these competencies.

Asking for feedback from those you work with is a great way to quickly gauge what your strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to managing change.

It’s also a good idea to track your progress by asking for feedback at the end of each change project or programme you deliver. You can then see what you’re doing well and what you need to spend a bit more time and effort on.

If you’re leading a change team, you can use these competencies to identify areas of strength and weakness in the team as a whole; and subsequently, using the strengths to your advantage and mitigating against the weaknesses. This is particularly helpful if you’re able to recruit in to the team, rather than inheriting a change team.


The leader versus manager debate has been raging for a long time and no doubt will continue to do so.


Personally, I’m not a fan of binary, ‘either or’ thinking, which is why I love this illustration found on this blog post by Roxanne Chugg.

As a change practitioner, I’ve come to appreciate the ‘grey’. Sometimes, just sometimes, there is an overlap in roles and responsibilities. Change can be messy!

In the late 1980s, James Kouzes and Barry Posner came up with a useful differentiation between change leadership and change management. Whilst it is 30 years old, I still find this simple comparison useful.

The summary in the table below offers a helpful way to see where you are and subsequently, giving clarity about your role (and yes, where the overlaps might be!)

Change leaders…

·         …challenge the process

·         …inspire a shared vision

·         …enable others to act

·         …role-model the way

·         …encourage the heart

Change managers…

·         …ensure process efficiency

·         …control against targets and budgets

·         …monitor performance and accountability

·         …deliver agreed action plans

·         …encourage rational analysis

Where do you think you currently fit? Are you a ‘change leader’? A ‘change manager’? Or somewhere in-between?

In addition, how does your role fit with that of the various people you might have in your change team?

All too often, in my experience, time and money is spent on developing the strategy or plan for change. Minimal time and effort is spent on really thinking about the skills, knowledge and experience that will be needed for a change programme. I’ve seen people shoe-horned in to change roles and then lambasted when they fail to deliver.

There is a higher rate of success when an organisation takes the time to think about the competencies, the skills and weaknesses of the change lead, and the make-up of the team. This is the case with a large central government department I’m supporting. By taking this time up front, they are more likely to successfully transform the organisation and the services it delivers.

I’d love to hear about the skills that have made the difference for any change you’ve delivered. Share your stories in the comments box below and others will benefit from your experience.

Did you find this post helpful? I’d love to know, so Tweet me, or drop me a note on LinkedIn. If you have any colleagues that you feel should read this, too, please share it with them. I’d really appreciate it.

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One comment

  1. Thank you Hayley,

    Know in your heart your helping make generational change, with the positive work you are sending out into the world.

    Please be encouraged and continue to do so. What your doing is helping people from the heart regardless which can be tough going at times, but I am so pleased your following your passion and useing your experiances for the greater good, rather than what many people just hoped or wished they’d done, but is now too late.

    Keep on keeping on 🙂
    Lots of love and encouragement


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