Transforming a Senior Team to Manage Change

Posted by Bill Bain on 22/08/2018 9:04:12 AM

Transforming a senior team to manage change Bill Bain Icehouse

As they say, change is the new norm.

Whether you’re having to change your business direction to adjust to advancing markets or you just need to change to improve value delivery to your customers, it’s highly likely that you need to change how senior teams think and operate.

Failure to create a collaborative “one team” culture where they move from silo thinking to becoming a cohesive unit with a common purpose and goal, will most likely see organisations fall drastically short of where it wants or needs to be.

The situation

You’re a leader of a company with a constantly changing environment. You know that your organisation needs to change just to stay in the game, let alone capitalise on the shifting opportunities that the future may present.

Your business model has been stable to date, and you have an established management team.  Changing how you’ve operated for years doesn’t look easy and you wonder where to begin.

The team

As an established business your senior team may operate in silos and primarily focused on their key metrics. Invariably there could be challenges when it comes to egos and insecurities.

How do you get this group of individuals to understand that change is necessary and that they will need to work differently; and then ultimately get them to do it?

The first step – The leader

By identifying that your team needs to change is the big first step in the journey. The commitment of the leader (whether that’s you or someone else) is tantamount to being able to shift the mindset and behaviours of others within the team and organisation.

The leader’s ongoing commitment and willingness to demonstrate change gives the process life and sustainability. Knowing that change is a long game, if the leader doesn’t show continued commitment, the endeavour will most likely fail!

Ways that a leader can demonstrate commitment include:

  • Showing authenticity by genuinely ‘walking the talk’ and demonstrating how they personally will positively change as a leader
  • Keeping change top of mind by continuously referencing change events and their benefits in all dialogue and discussion
  • Use measurements that relate to change activities and recognize successes and behaviours that are in line with theme of change

Read blog: Developing your people - best practices for building a stronger team

Creating a change culture

It begins with explaining why change is necessary. Getting the team to see that where they are today and how they currently do things, won’t be sustainable in the future. You can do this by providing the following:

  • Factual insights into how your market is changing through journals or commissioned surveys on what customer’s value.
  • The future for market leaders and competitor including direction and strategy
  • Identifying technologies that will impact your business immediately or within the near future

Shedding light on what needs to change for the organisation, means the team may need to operate at a different level. They need to be a team that works as a unit. All going in the same direction with genuine trust which then allows them the ability to safely and constructively challenge each other with the betterment of the team’s result in mind.

“Being” a high performing team

There are many things that need to be done to becoming a high performing team. A key element is getting a team to recognise that they are an individual cohesive team, not a team of individuals.

Binding the team

Getting the team all going in the same direction with commitment is essential. The process starts by establishing your company’s and the team’s Purpose (its Why), setting your sights on where you want to Be in 5 to 10 years (it’s Vision) and establishing your Values which act as the guiding principles on how people operate.

(If you haven’t seen Simon Sinek’s “It starts with WHY” Ted talk here is the link. A great watch!)

Establishing these elements creates the platform and common direction that everyone collaboratively works together to achieve. They are the glue that aligns your people, gets them engaged and energised so strategies and other key initiatives can be constructed and executed more effectively.

Deriving your Purpose, Values and Vision can be done through a series of workshops or whatever works for you. It may be of value to have an external coach help facilitate this process as they would know what to do and they can push and probe with independence to help get the best result.

Once done, it is important to bring it all to life. Visuals are a great way for people to see the meaning in the words.

‘Walking the talk’ is important, so recognising positive behaviours in meetings or company events. It shows that the team are being authentic and not just having the Purpose, Values and Vision hanging on the walls but are demonstrating them in the halls.

All these actions help develop the team and creates positive energy for the team.


Getting through the tough times

Transforming a senior team to manage change Bill Bain Icehouse cracks

Despite having a cynic or two, you have successfully got to the point of a clear direction and alignment of the team. You’ve created actions that will form your change programme to support a successful transformation.

But, changing takes awareness and work. People have their day jobs and when things get hectic they revert to their old familiar behaviours. The team hasn’t adjusted yet and they question “Why are they needing to do this?”

Now the cracks appear, these cracks can often come in the guise of silos re-forming, a lack of delivering initiatives or people just griping and groaning that things weren’t so bad before and complacency rears its ugly head.

Introducing The Change Grid:

the change grid bill bain the icehouse

It’s important to keep things positively moving through the curves of change. The Change Grid identifies four different stages of the responses to change:

  1. Denial - Initially, the meaning of the change fails to sink in: we act as if nothing has happened.
  2. Resistance - Once we start to recognise that change will happen, we start to Resist it. We do this at an emotional level; we show anger, anxiety, bitterness or fear, for example. But we also oppose the change rationally, and often take active steps to frustrate it.  Organisations tend to see increases in sickness, absenteeism, and turnover, along with more general drops in efficiency and quality.
  3. Exploration - When the organisation faces up to the inevitable resistance, and engages with it in a positive way, then people can start to focus on their future. They will Explore the implications of the change for them and look for ways to move forward.  This can be a chaotic time. But it can also be exhilarating for the change leaders. This is especially so when the benefits of the change are significant.
  4. Commitment - Eventually people start to turn their attention outward as they Commit to their new future.

The more people see that change is beneficial, the quicker they will jump from the first to the fourth stage. The leader needs to be aware of any wavering moods within the group and keep things moving forward by initially showing respect to individual’s feelings yet be able to finesse positive action. Being able to do that is more an art than a science.

Other ways to keep the momentum going can include:

  • Ensuring all meetings are effective and productive. Poor meetings can be motivation killers.
  • Creating 90-day plans with actions that are measurable and ensure there is a forum to monitor progress
  • Importantly, highlight the team’s successes and wins, celebrate positive behaviours and anything else that relates to benefits that come through supporting the change initiatives. Remember, wins lead to more wins.

Measuring Success

A good way to see how you have progressed is to have a team diagnostic survey done at the start and then again in 9 – 12 months later.


It takes time, patience and commitment to transition a senior team to becoming a high performing team. By comparison, you can’t run a marathon sub 4 hours if you only run half marathons so neither can you take shortcuts when in developing the team.

It’s a big effort but once you get there the rewards are endless.


A success story

The Challenge
A large energy company realised that as competition in the energy market ramped up, technology enablement was a strategic differentiator in the market.

The head of IT knew that as a business unit they needed to significantly increase the value required from the IT Group to drive the company’s competitive challenges.

Their need
The IT Group had to transform a hybrid team of employed personnel and a strategic service provider from being Service Level Agreement focussed as well as having an “us” and “them” mentality to a high performing unified team.

The solution
Bringing the leadership teams of both organisations together through creating a common customer centric intent of which they were committed, allowed them to trustingly reach beyond the Service Level Agreements to make positive things happen.

The benefits
With a ubiquitous intent, culture, and working principles the combined teams transformed into a high performing business unit delivering significant benefits for the company; including:

  • Significant reduction in business disruption caused by technology incidents;
  • 28% improvement in Capital Efficiency through improved business unit engagement in the delivery of strategic initiatives; and
  • Transformation in the perception and engagement of the technology team, from being “file and print support” to being engaged in strategic business initiatives that delivered great value for the company. 

This blog is written by Bill Bain, culture and change management expert and Business Coach at The Icehouse.

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Topics: Leadership, Business Strategy & Planning, Coaching