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“People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!” – Peter Senge

If the last few years have shown us anything, it's that businesses need to adapt. An effective change management strategy is essential to survival.

But change can cause uncertainty and frustration. It can reduce efficiency in the short term and lead people to question their role and value in the new order.

Perhaps most challenging of all, change faith in an end result – a vision which might not have been widely communicated or understood.

So, how do you ensure buy-in from those who are happy with the status quo – or who only see the disadvantages of short-term chaos and upheaval? How do you handle contingencies with both people and process when changes don’t go according to plan?

A passport in a changing landscape

Individuals need to know where they fit, and what they have to contribute.

If that contribution is framed in purely functional terms (a job description, perhaps) then when that job changes beyond recognition (or is removed altogether), the individual loses their organisational ‘identity’ and their very survival is under threat.

However, if they understand that their behavioural contributions (their strengths and working styles) are understood and valued, this acts as a kind of ‘passport’ to the new order. In this scenario, change promises new opportunities, rather than posing threats.

And it’s not just about securing individual futures. Clarity is required at a higher level too. Let’s face it, projects very rarely run on time or budget, and it’s near impossible to legislate for every eventuality. Whilst leadership might instinctively seek to save face, employees will be able to tell if the party line doesn’t match the reality. A lack of clarity leads to false assumptions and missed opportunities, at a time when the organisation can least afford either.

From clarity comes collaboration

Clarity of vision and direction promotes autonomy and ownership, encouraging individuals to collaborate in change. When facing a large challenge, the tendency is to close ranks and shut down dissenting voices, in an effort to ‘keep things simple’. But change requires us to be responsive and collaborative, not to continue doggedly with the plan in spite of changing circumstances.

When individuals have confidence in playing to, and articulating their strengths, this promotes ownership of the change, rather than people being swept along helplessly by it.

What’s more, diversity offers a bulwark against the risks change brings. If a certain style or way of working has led to the problem, chances are that a different approach is required to fix it, rather than more of the same. With a variety of approaches and styles, innovative solutions to problems are forthcoming and the organisation – as an organism – is more readily able to evolve to meet new demands.

A barometer for all weathers

It’s all too easy to sacrifice people for process when working through the complex logistics of organisational change. But the truth is, both need to work in harmony for the organisation to ‘hit the ground running’ under a new order. Belbin gives individuals a language – a shorthand which can build relationships, help people adapt to their changing environment and get all manner of teams working quickly and effectively.

Whilst there may be a temptation to become insular and focus on the task at hand, the practice of measuring and communicating strengths should not be set aside at times of crisis and picked up when skies are clear again. In this scenario, people become detached from process. They are excluded from collaborating in change, and the cracks begin to show. Moreover, it sets the tone for picking up on strengths-based learning in the restructured organisation. If the process is seen as a luxury – a ‘nice-to-have' – why should leaders expect employee buy-in later, when the crisis has passed?

A powerful tool and an integral part of any change management toolkit, Belbin can and should play a key part – in preparing and planning for change, promoting diversity and clarity, forming the new order and monitoring the impact of restructuring as the organisation adapts to new ways.

This was demonstrated by The Teach First Design Team, who are responsible for designing the leadership development programme for all participants.  After the make-up of the team changed, an off-site session was organised to bring the team together around a new set of stretching objectives.  Belbin was an integral part of the day.

Rachel Haak, a member of the team, commented:

“I think it is fair to say that the day was transformational for our team. We had been through a lot of change and turbulence over the past few months, and it helped us come back together, appreciate one another and refocus. The change in the team has been remarkable, we now communicate more often and informally, we draw on each other’s preferred working styles to increase our efficiency and impact and work together more often and more meaningfully. Each member of the team seems to have had a boost in confidence, is clearer on what they uniquely offer the team and are motivated to share it.”

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