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Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today Magazine

Creating teams that soar

Why is it that some teams are resistant to change while others approach change with enthusiasm? Jane Judd outlines the factors that influence a team being change ready and explains how to create change agile teams.

Have you ever wondered why some teams seem to be more adaptive to change than others? Have you noticed what’s possible when teams are fully engaged and seem to just get on and make change work? These questions are being asked more frequently as business leaders and HR professionals recognise that teams perform differently during times of change.


A change agile team is a team that consistently demonstrates:

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    Openness to new ideas and ways of working;
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    The ability to adapt and scale their effort to the size and impact of a given change;
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    Understanding of the bigger picture and their contribution to it;
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    Credibility with other teams, colleagues and senior leaders in the business;
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    They are easy to interact with in times of change;
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    They deliver by making the right things happen;
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    An ability to question constructively on behalf of the customer;
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    An ability to leverage the collective talents of the team;
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    Business problem-solving capability.


Organisations are starting to recognise that the advent of new technologies and social media means that systems of hierarchical communication and engagement are being superseded by collaboration and viral communication methods, whether formal or informal. This is forcing a level of engagement not all leaders are prepared for. By creating change agile teams, we support the leaders, empower the teams and build organisational change capability. This in turn provides potential for more pragmatic business solutions, shortened project and initiative lifecycles and therefore increased speed to value, and improved responsiveness to changing situations.


There are many factors that influence a team being change ready, yet often when you peel back the layers, many of those factors are anchored in adult learning principles; familiar to many yet often overlooked as a framework to be used in times of change. Below are the some of the core elements of change agile teams, all of them anchored in adult learning principles.

Attribute 1—“Why”. Change agile teams when hearing of something that needs to change will always ask why? A core principle in the way that adults learn is the need to know why. If being asked for discretionary effort, adults want to know it is for good reason and is therefore valued. From an organisational perspective this means taking the time to have open and honest conversations with teams about why the change is necessary and important. The more “real” these conversations are the greater chance of engagement. Opening two-way dialogue with individual teams is an effective tool in creating change agility in teams.

Attribute 2—Relevance. When talking with teams about change, the content needs to be relevant to the team. This is a common pitfall for organisations and senior leaders. There are many situations where the same presentation is used to communicate to a range of audiences in order to maintain consistency of message. The relevance of a change may vary by team and so the content of the communication and information shared with teams needs to be translated and shared in language, tone and with examples that resonate with the audience. If the upcoming change is relevant and its importance (the why) is clear, it is easier to understand where and how to best contribute to the success. People want to be able to contribute to success; they don’t always know how best to do this.

Attribute 3—Leverage team experience. Team members have a variety of skills and experience. Change agile teams use this as their foundation to respond positively to change. By understanding and using the collective talents of the team, they team for success and focus on bridging any potential gaps. This provides an opportunity for everyone in the team to contribute according to their current capabilities and for some to extend their learning and skills through the change process. This is the flipside of assuming teams do not or will not understand or meet the new requirements without engaging with the teams first. Appreciative inquiry, understanding the existing strengths, is a very powerful tool in building change agile teams.

Attribute 4—Problem centred. Change agile teams are great at solving problems. In formal teaching environments content is often presented and taught by subject or topic. When engaging with change agile teams there is immense value in providing an overview of the problem and seeking input on how to solve it. Provide clear direction on any known constraints or parameters, set the team the task, ask them who else needs to be involved and give them the freedom to problem solve. Organisations can block change agility by providing solutions that may not work because they have been created by people too far removed from where the practical application occurs.

Attribute 5—Empower the team. Change agile teams are fully engaged and committed to the outcomes of the organisation. They feel empowered to share ideas, problem solve locally and work in partnership with their leader and the organisation. The teams have high ownership of their outputs, the quality of their work and their ongoing learning and improvement. Organisations that take a directive approach to change will feel high levels of resistance from such teams. In such circumstances, this framework can be used to step back and analyse which aspects are being considered and which ones might be causing the resistance and how might we take a different course of action.

Attribute 6—Internal motivation. Change agile teams are driven by being a successful high performing team. The overall success of any change, therefore, needs to be translated into team goals the team can deliver on. These can link to the customer, to the broader business or the marketplace; however the pathway of contribution must be clear. A common pitfall in organisations is to keep the goals at a strategic level. Teams become confused because their contribution isn’t explicit and they are not sure what action to take. By taking the time to translate the lofty business goals into team specific goals that are measurable and achievable you can step back and watch teams soar, just checking in from time to time to guide and align.

Harnessing these core attributes in the team environment enables everyone to contribute to and make the transition through change one person at a time in a supportive team culture. The leader of the team has a critical role to play in empowering, communicating and encouraging the team. However, the creation of a change agile team can also lift and support the leader as they turn their focus from managing resistance to harnessing enthusiasm. High trust remains at the core and applying the adult learning principles creates an environment where change is actively facilitated rather than managed.


An organisation going through change is keen to better understand the real issues its teams are facing. The organisation uses an annual engagement survey with valuable and honest feedback, yet it really needs to understand the actions to take that will have most impact.

A leadership team decides the only way to get beneath the surface is to draw out the real, unspoken issues with each team and this will require the assistance of an independent facilitator to create an environment of trust.

The facilitator works with the leadership team to agree the outcomes and the process. A short workshop is set up with each team to engage in open dialogue with the facilitator. Perhaps the team manager and/or divisional manager join the team at the end of each session for the facilitator to feed back the findings and recommendations for focused action.

The single most important issues across the teams almost always link back to adult learning principles, such as:

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    Meaningful dialogue—talk to us openly about why a change is necessary, we want adult-to-adult conversations;
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    Problem solving—we want to be involved in being part of the solution, let us help find a solution that works;
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    Recognise our skills and experience and use it effectively—we want our organisation to succeed and our capabilities acknowledged.

The outcome of such a process is incredibly powerful in the following ways;

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    It builds greater organisational trust as the real issues are brought to the surface and acknowledged;
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    It creates opportunity for great input to problem solving and creating workable solutions;
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    Some important team issues may be heard for the first time and addressed quickly;
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    It creates greater collaboration and appreciation across teams for the contribution of everyone;
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    Increases resilience and involvement in making change happen.

JANE JUDD is managing director at Jane Judd Consulting, a management consulting practice based in Auckland specialising in change management and business transformation.

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