Why Change Hurts: Part I – Project team support

change hurts

A few months ago I began working with a new client. She has been working on a decently sized project that is meant to save the company upwards of $1.5M. By the time I was brought in, the project was well under way – it started about 6 months prior – and several issues had surfaced but were yet to be addressed; employees were starting to talk. Most notably:

  • Her project team was resisting her every step of the way,
  • There was a complete lack of an urgent need and vision statement (why are we changing? What will the future look like?),
  • There was unclear and inconsistent messaging,
  • Stakeholder involvement was minimal, and
  • There was no leadership alignment.

Needless to say, this project was a challenge. It was a challenge for many reasons. Over the next few weeks I will address these challenges and why they need to be addressed in this four part series on why change hurts.

Lack of Project Team Support:

Unless you’re prepared to handle the entire project by yourself, you’re going to have to work well with others. Sometimes you luck out and get to work with a great group of people, you’re all located in one area and group dynamics are great. Other times, as is the case with this client, you get put on a project team where members are geographically dispersed, uncommitted, and maybe even resistant to the project to begin with. The problem is, you never know at the outset what you’re getting and wishing for the best isn’t going to get you very far.

So what can you do in these situations? For starters, I recommend treating your project team members as stakeholders. After all, they’re likely to be affected by the upcoming changes as well. Even if they’re not, they still need to become as committed to a change as any other impacted stakeholder. Here are some tips on engaging project teams to increase commitment.

  • Explain the project to your team. What does this change mean for your team? How will they be affected? How will their peers/supervisors/direct reports be affected?
  • Communicate early and often. People don’t understand a change by hearing about it once. People need to hear messaging 5-7 times – and a quick email or a memo isn’t going to cut it; two-way conversations to encourage discussion is key here. Don’t forget to keep team members in the loop throughout the project as well! You need their support!
  • Involve the team. Participation increases commitment, commitment increases the likelihood of project success. Don’t assume you have all the answers, team members likely have a better handle on how the upcoming project will affect your stakeholders. Don’t be afraid to use their knowledge! Not only will it allow your team to have a say in the how the project unfolds (building their commitment!), but it will also open up a world of possibilities for a successful rollout. What could be better?

Although it happens more frequently than change practitioners would like, we’re frequently brought in on a project late in the game, once the proverbial shit has hit the fan. In a perfect world, we’d be brought in from the very beginning, so we’d have a chance to minimize these concerns. But what can we do if the project has already started and the team is unsupportive?

  • Take a step back. Sometimes stepping outside the project and looking in can help. Reflect on the project kick-off meeting, past conversations, the impacts of the project. Was something skimmed over that needs to be readdressed? Does the team understand the project? Were their concerns addressed? If not…
  • Talk about it. More often than not an issue can be solved by addressing the issue at hand. Is it uncomfortable? YES! Is it awkward? YESSS!!! Is it worth it? YEEEESSSSSS!!!! If there’s something going on that’s making you uncomfortable, it’s likely making others feel the same way. Being brave and addressing it creates a sense of camaraderie. If there’s someone on the team you trust speak to them ahead of time to see if they’ve noticed anything going on with the team. Ask for feedback. See if there’s anything you can do to make things run smoother.
  • Get the champion and/or sponsor involved. Lack of team engagement isn’t always your fault. You could be the best team player and have the best of intentions, but if there is no leadership visibility there’s a big problem. People want to see that leadership is involved and engaged. They want to know all the work they’re doing isn’t being done in vein. Ask your champion to join a few meetings and talk about the importance of the project and what it means for the organization.

What are some ways you’ve turned an unsupportive project team around?

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3 Responses to Why Change Hurts: Part I – Project team support

  1. Joseph Hines says:

    WOW!!!! this is great. Very insightful. Can’t wait for part 2.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Rhonda Kahn says:

    I’m going to share this at my office!

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