Team leaders: the missing audience
Many change books miss or underplay one of the most important participants in change: the typical team leader in a complex organization. Many books are aimed at the executive level. Those books have grand and often exciting titles about leading change. Some books are aimed at the person who has to coordinate the change – a change leader or project manager. Other books discuss the individual’s personal journey through change.
These are important topics, but they miss one critical audience. Large organizations are built from teams. These teams typically have some form of team leader. This book is aimed at those line managers, team leaders and anyone who has a role in running a team – in which the team leader regularly needs to drive change in.
Change in teams is often a part of a wider organizational change driven from the top. Such change is built up from individuals responding to change and accepting (or rejecting) it. But just thinking top down about change from the level of the whole organization or bottom up from the viewpoint of individuals misses the specific nature of team change and the challenges of the team leader in guiding this change. It’s like creating a sandwich without worrying about the filling!
This book is a result of a set of observations I have made during years of working on change programs. I have worked as a team leader having to implement change, as a program manager running change programs, and as a consultant supporting organizations and their line managers through change.
Team leaders can be the greatest barrier to change or they can be the lynchpin of success for a change program. But team leaders rarely are seen as the key asset in delivering change, in spite of being instrumental to it. Many team leaders have to drive change initiatives without sufficient support or training. This seems particularly common for managers at the start of their careers.
Change programs and the language of change management are increasingly ubiquitous. We’ve all heard the mantra “there is no constant but change”. Team leaders can be highly pressurised during change programs trying to balance three, often contending, pressures: helping their team through change, trying to continue to deliver the day-to-day work whilst changing, and their own personal experience of the change. And yet, given all of this, I often find that team leaders are the least trained people when it comes to change management. In this book I set out to start to rebalance this.
Whilst leading change throws up big challenges, team leaders should not panic. There are many simple, practical tools and techniques that combine planning and structure with flexibility and responsiveness that will help you succeed. In this book we will explore ways that will make your life as a change leader easier and reduce the risks associated with undertaking change.
The messy reality of organizations
I address the audience of team leaders and I do this in a more meaningful way than many books. I do this by taking account of the messy reality of most organizations. None of us work in that text book idealized organization with perfect strategy, processes and resources.
Team leaders work in the real world. Theory is interesting, but it is the application of theory to reality that matters. There is some underpinning theory in my book, but mostly it sets out to give practical and pragmatic advice. I take a realistic, warts and all view, of what it is like to work in a major organization. This is the world of imperfect strategies, flawed leadership, inadequate processes, politics, limited budgets and constrained headcount – that team leaders really operate in.
Be wary of the snake oil salesman promising you a cure to all your change problems. There are no silver bullets, but there are techniques and approaches which will reduce risk and make your journey smoother than it would otherwise have been. I will give you a balanced view of the different and often conflicting forces a team leader experiences during change programs. I do not pretend the experience is always easy or pleasant, but I will show you it does not need to be a nightmare!
The book is full of real world advice for dealing with difficult situations like redundancy, ambitious executive expectations and facing teams who are unwilling to change.
I also aim to increase team leaders’ self-sufficiency and resilience. During a change program you should be able to rely on the wider organization for support. But sometimes, the painful truth is that the rest of the organization will let you down. Your boss may communicate something unhelpful, the organization’s strategy may be unclear, HR may not be able to deliver what you expect, your peers may create challenges for you, and annual pay rises and bonuses may not support you in driving the behaviour you want. These are examples of the hundreds of issues that form the reality of most team leaders’ work.
These are not examples of unusually terrible management and leadership. It is the fact that organizations operate within constraints, and the reality that we are all human, and sometimes people who you think should know and perform better, don’t. I want to help you to take what’s best from your organization and survive its flaws. All organizations have them, and most of us know what they are! Resilience in the face of organizational flaws is key to a successful and happy career as a manager.
What the book covers
This book covers 8 key aspects which are essential for the team leader to know to guide successful change. The reader will build a comprehensive understanding of the challenge of change for team leaders, and how to face and overcome it. The book is designed both to be read end-to-end and to be used as a quick reference source time and again.
Start from the right place
Change is more or less difficult depending on the state of the team at the start of the process of changing. What can you do in your day-to-day work, so that when you start out on change you are starting from the right place?
Finding clarity, making clarity
How can you create a meaningful and compelling vision for your team, often in the face of limited relevance of your organization’s wider strategy?
There are many things you could change about your team to progress towards your vision. What might you change and how do you choose between the options?
Plan the change
How do you build a practical and effective plan for change, especially when you have to account for all the other things that need to be done?
Change and do the day job
How do you drive a change initiative, whilst maintaining business-as-usual performance?
Adapting to and adopting change
What are the steps you should take to help your team members adapt to and willingly adopt change?
Talking about change
How do you develop and transmit convincing and compelling messages about your change?
Arrive, sustain and move on
What is the best way to ensure your change is sustained, and to build a flexible and agile team for future changes?
This is a short, accessible book. You will find it packed full of tips and techniques that reassure and help you. When you finish it, I want you to be both more confident and more effective at guiding your team through change.