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Helping teams manage organizational change: Changing team Dynamics

Change at scale is hard and organizational change like layoffs, reorgs, and major strategic pivots can affect trust, communication and collaboration, your team's purpose and goals, along with all the other myriad things that influence your ability to deliver valuable outcomes. This is the second in a series of posts that provides insight and guidance on some of the most common areas affected by organizational change. Today's topic: team dynamics.

Managing organizational change and team dynamics

One of the most challenging aspects of navigating a major organizational change such as a reorg or layoff is dealing with shifting team dynamics. In the last post we talked about employee morale and how to help rebuild trust, include folks in the process, create clarity about purpose, and motivate your team. Once you've started that work, you can begin investing in other ways to help your teams move back into a performant state.

Turbulent water with the words, "Avoiding conflict may seem easier in the short term, but it ultimately leads to unresolved tensions, damaged relationships, and missed opportunities for growth and understanding."

One way to think about this is using Bruce Tuckman's Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning model. It describes the typical stages that teams go through as they form, grow, adapt, and eventually achieve peak performance. In the forming stage, team members come together and focus on getting to know one another, establishing ground rules, and clarifying goals and expectations. This stage is characterized by polite interactions and a desire to avoid conflict. As the team progresses to the storming stage, differences in opinions, personalities, and working styles emerge, leading to conflicts and power struggles. In the norming stage, team members resolve their differences, develop cohesion, and establish more effective communication and collaboration patterns. In the performing stage, the team achieves high levels of productivity, leveraging their collective strengths to accomplish goals efficiently. Finally, for some teams in the adjourning stage, the team disbands after completing its objectives, reflecting on its achievements and experiences.

Bear in mind that none of this is linear and teams often move through cycles of these stages, especially when team members join, leave, or major organizational change happens. Tuckman's team stages model can provide valuable insights into the dynamics of team development, so let's first look at how teams can be affected by big changes.

How teams can be affected by big changes

  • Loss of Trust and Confidence: Layoffs can erode trust among team members, leading to a breakdown in communication and collaboration.

  • Increased Tension and Conflict: The uncertainty surrounding layoffs may fuel tension and conflict within teams as employees grapple with fear, anxiety, and resentment.

  • Shift in Roles and Responsibilities: With fewer team members, there may be a need to redistribute tasks and responsibilities, leading to changes in team dynamics and potential role confusion.

  • Communication Breakdown: Team members may withdraw from communication or engage in passive-aggressive behavior, hindering effective collaboration and problem-solving.

  • Cliques or Factions: Employees may break into factions within the team, creating divisions and undermining team cohesion.

  • Decreased Collaboration: A decline in collaboration and teamwork may result from increased mistrust and uncertainty among team members.

Any one of these factors can throw a team out of performing and back into the storming phase. In moments of big organizational change, you're likely to experience many or all of these factors simultaneously. As a leader, your goal is helping your team move through the storming phase using healthy forming and norming rituals, and eventually into performing productively again. So, what are some ways to do this?

Ways to help teams become performant again

  • Open and Transparent Communication: Foster open, honest, and transparent communication within the team to address concerns, clarify expectations, and rebuild trust. Encourage team members to share their thoughts and feelings openly and respectfully. The first post in this series on rebuilding morale will help you to lay the groundwork for this effort.

  • Team-Building Activities: Engage in team-building activities and exercises to strengthen bonds, foster trust, and improve collaboration. This could include team lunches (virtual or in-person), off-site retreats, or collaborative projects. It's important to try to do this during work hours rather than expecting folks to engage in these activities during personal time that may already be dedicated to family or outside obligations.

  • Clarify Roles and Responsibilities: Clearly define roles, responsibilities, and expectations within the team to minimize confusion and ambiguity. Ensure that each team member understands their contribution to the team's goals and objectives. This shouldn't be a static RACI that you set and forget. It needs to align to the actual tasks, job functions, strengths, and priorities of your team, which is always evolving. It also needs to be paired with team agreements on how you'll show up and work together, through the day-to-day moments as well as during a crisis. Reference these in your team's weekly planning exercises and keep them updated when they become outdated.

  • Conflict Resolution: Address conflicts and tensions within the team proactively and constructively. Don't let things fester or assume they'll work themselves out. Avoiding conflict may seem easier in the short term, but it ultimately leads to unresolved tensions, damaged relationships, and missed opportunities for growth and understanding. Encourage open dialogue, active listening, and empathy to resolve conflicts and foster a positive team environment.

  • Empowerment and Inclusion: Empower team members to contribute their ideas, opinions, and perspectives to team discussions and decision-making processes. Foster a culture of inclusion and diversity where all voices are valued and respected. You may have to help quieter team members and limit louder individuals from dominating communications by actively asking for, and hearing, everyone's point of view and providing varying ways for people to share, e.g. vocally, in writing, in the moment, and after the fact.

By addressing these challenges proactively and implementing effective strategies, teams can move quickly back into the performing stage after big organizational changes, emerging stronger, more cohesive, and better equipped to achieve their goals together.

As a leadership coach, I partner with leaders and teams to navigate changing team dynamics and foster a positive and productive team environment during times of organizational change. Reach out today to set up a complimentary consultation!

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