Connection is key to help your team manage change.
When you have a clear picture of where you want to go but your team won’t come along as quickly as you want, it can feel like you’re trying to pull a car out of the mud—it’s stuck and everyone’s spinning their wheels. Pull too hard or too fast and you risk a disaster like this:
The internet is full of towing failures like this one. There are a couple of common mistakes that plague well-meaning people trying to tow a friend’s car out of trouble—and these same mistakes can prevent you from helping your team manage change.
Help Your Team Manage Change by Avoiding These 3 Mistakes
Mistake #1: Poor Connection
A good tow depends on a solid connection between the two vehicles. For example, don’t hook your tow cable to the bumper of either vehicle. This is a weak connection. In many of those towing fails, they didn’t attach their cable to the car’s frame, and when they pulled, they tore the car apart.
Just as you want to connect a tow cable to a car’s frame, as a leader, your influence depends on the strength of your connection to your people. Share the meaning and purpose of the work. Know what your people value, and connect those values to their daily tasks.
The most meaningful connections you make are with shared values and clear reasons why activities must happen. Without these connections, you’ve probably asked your team to do something that makes no sense to them (with little chance of success).
You also strengthen your connection to your people when you include their wisdom and perspective in decision-making. Ask what they think the team is capable of, why they do what they do, and how they would improve the results they produce.
Mistake #2: Rapid Direction Change
When you tow, you don’t want to pull the car sideways or you could rip off a tire or an entire axle. Instead, start by pulling the vehicle in the direction it was going or else directly opposite that direction. This minimizes stress on the car and gets the wheels rolling.
Similarly, with your team, you have to know their current capacity, training, and priorities. If you ask something of them they don’t know how to do, or that their current workload can’t accommodate, or something that conflicts with their current priorities, you’ll end up frustrated.
We’ve worked with many User managers who respond to this scenario by pulling harder (they yell, belittle their people, and get upset). This is the equivalent of pulling at the wrong angle and tearing the axle off the car. At best, your people lose respect for you. At worse, they rebel, quit, or sabotage success.
When you need to get your team going a different direction, start by examining the capacity, training, and priorities. What can you remove from their plate? What training can you get for them? How can you help re-prioritize and get them rolling in the new direction? Even a day or two spent in making these adjustments can help your team manage change and transform faster.
Mistake #3: Moving too Fast
When you tow a vehicle, you don’t want to slam on the accelerator. When the road is muddy and you accelerate too quickly, your tires will spin and dig into the mud. When the road is dry and you accelerate too fast, you’ll damage one vehicle or else snap the tow cable.
As a manager, you have a clear picture of where you’re going and what needs to happen to get there. It’s obvious to you. But what’s obvious to you won’t be obvious to your people without significant communication—particularly in times of crisis and change.
We’ve worked with countless frustrated managers who told their team about a change in procedure once, six months ago and are now angry that their team isn’t implementing the change. To pull gently and build momentum, you’ve got to frequently communicate what’s happening, why it’s happening, and the specific tasks each person is responsible for, and then check for understanding. At the end of the discussions, ask team members to share what they understand the expectations to be.
Slow down just a little, and help your people build momentum in the new direction.
The towing metaphor has its limits. In fact, the better connection you build with your team, the more you help them to self-manage and prioritize what matters most, the more rapidly your team can manage change and respond to sudden shifts.
We’ve been so impressed by the leadership and rapid changes we’ve seen many teams make in response to this crisis and we’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment and share What is your #1 way to help your team manage change quickly and respond to rapidly shifting circumstances?