How to enable teams to succeed during change and transition

Helen Buckwell gives TJ a few ideas for team success during a period of change.

As I sit here, working at home, juggling home schooling and listening to the daily news updates, it is clear to us all that we are working through a phase of our lives which we will never forget and which will have an impact on the world for a long time.

The change hits us at all levels, and in the face of this change we all have our own personal responses. Much has been written over recent weeks about the resilience we all need to care for ourselves and those around us. 

In response to this change we are all working through a psychological ‘transition’, and so it seems sensible to explore the role collaboration can play in helping us work through this. 

‘Transition’ is the word used to describe the psychological shift we take in response to a change in our situation. Currently we are all impacted by these extreme changes to our world, but even putting the current challenges aside, we will have all experienced change in our lives that we have had to work through and respond to. 

One of the great advantages and drivers for enhancing collaboration is to increase a team’s ability to make the best of the resources they have – the strengths that each person brings. 

Personally, I like the work of William Bridges and his ‘Transitions Model’ to bring this to life – the need to say goodbye to the past before we are even close to being ready to say ‘hello’ to the future. 

Much has been written about change and my job here is not to recount this. What I would like to do is apply the lens of collaboration. During periods of change, no matter how big or small they may seem, how can we use strong levels of collaboration to help a team maintain, or even enhance performance?

Authentic leaders 

Be honest: Give space for the team to engage in the conversation around how to respond. Where needed share the clarity you have from the organisation above. Where that’s not possible be transparent. The focus here is to build and enhance levels of trust – fake promises, or perceived hiding of information does not help – even when done with the best of intent.

Engage on a human level: Share your emotional response, and be careful. This is not about the leader sharing all their woes and personal concerns with everyone. The leader needs a space to work through any anxiety or concerns, but that would be more beneficial to do with a coach or mentor. 


That said, the leader does need to engage as a human. What can they share that demonstrates empathy, role models an ability to engage at an emotional level, makes it ok to feel anxious or concerned, and provides assurance and calm in the face of this? Not an easy balance, but an important balance. 


Purpose: How does this change impact on our collective purpose? If it doesn’t, ensure you are reinforcing the existing purpose and exploring how this applies to the new context in which you find yourselves.

Role and responsibility: How does the change impact our roles? You may have had clarity on where one role started and finished, but have the recent changes had an impact on this? Does it ask each team member to take on any new responsibilities? 

If so, how does this impact the current collective understanding of each person’s role? This is not about building new role descriptions or process flows (unless you feel that’s necessary), but it is about having the conversation and exploring the impact of the change on current roles and responsibilities.


Look for difference: What differing perspectives do you have in the team and how can you best use these? One of the great advantages and drivers for enhancing collaboration is to increase a team’s ability to make the best of the resources they have – the strengths that each person brings. 

This also means being curious about differing perspectives. During times of change we will all perceive events based on our own frame of reference – this is valuable data. Explore and be curious – give space for the team to hear and value the differing views in order to build a shared understanding and agree ways to respond to the new environment. 

Having such conversations virtually asks us to structure the conversation well and truly listen to each other – despite the interruptions at home!

Create safety: How can you make it safe to experiment and learn about our new context, without fear of judgement or failure? Look out for moments when team members experiment and try new ways of working. Spot it, celebrate it and promote it. It does not matter whether the new approach worked or failed, what matters is that something new was attempted. 


Structure the week: What structure can you bring to the week whilst working virtually. The daily check in call with a coffee – just to see how everyone is. The weekly project review, the one-to-one check ins so you can engage with each team member and support, guide and listen to how they’re working through the transition. 

Discuss with your team what conversations would be helpful, and when in the day these would be helpful – scheduling a daily catch up at 9am when a member of your team is home schooling their kids may not always work.

Technology: This will, and still may be, a big challenge for many teams who to date have not been used to virtual working. Explore different technologies, share top tips as people learn how to use these tools so that they become second nature to all. When frustration emerges, be there to listen and work through a practical way forward.

Aside from all these points, there is no doubt that the simple act of kindness will play a major part in how we collectively get through this. In times of challenge our communities are being drawn together in a way we haven’t seen for a while. 

Let’s hope this positive outcome stays with us for a long time to come…


About the author

Helen Buckwell is the founder of Hidden Strengths Learning



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