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The Absence of Illness Does Not Suggest You’re Healthy

Teams are living social systems, not machines. As a result, continuous attention is required because people need attention differently at different times for different reasons. However, assumption is often the problem. On face value, it seems business as usual, no disruptions to talk about. The assumption is that everyone knows what to do and how to do it, everything seems OK. Only to discover one blue Monday morning that it is in fact not the case. How come?

What Shows On the Outside Is Not Necessarily the Same as On The Inside

People have social masks, often covering up what really is happening to them on an intrapersonal level. What appears to be the case is not necessarily the truth. At the root of it all is the reality of transition, of change. We all go through life passages of transition (change) more or less every 10 years, from birth up to the end. And we are all at different stages of transition. That makes it even more difficult and complex. However, there is often the assumption that everyone should or would respond to change similarly to ourselves, resulting in unnecessary tension and conflict.

Understanding People’s Responses to Change 

A team is a relationship institution. And relationships are the life force of a team. Getting to “know” each other “better”, more than on a superficial level is essential, if you have any intention of building a high performance team.  When people are in transition they react in certain characteristic ways. Being able to; 1) identify the signs of transition and 2) understand people’s responses will help you to remain calm and in control of your own reactions during change and transition. Timing is everything. By understanding how people respond during transition will help you determine when to do what. People’s reactions during change are signals of making psychological adjustments to a change.  What you see and hear when people react will keep you open to a wide range of responses, without feeling guilty, defensive or merely dismissing it as “just being otherwise”.

Four Stages of Reactions to Change

In a team, every day is filled with a variety of changes, disruptions. Some relate directly to your job/role whilst others could be more indirect. This is over and above the life stage everyone is at, at the time. It is therefore helpful to keep in mind the age of each member when dealing with whatever the change might represent. We seem to go through       a process of 4 repetitive stages in our reactions. After the 4th stage, we tend to slip back into a comfort zone and it starts all over again. Companies face the same dilemma as well – change is inevitable. The stages are;

  1. Comfort Our comfort zone. When there is a sense of safety, routine, certainty, knowing and dealing with the familiar and making the effort to maintain the status quo. What people generally do; continue with work as usual / agree without question, ignore any symptoms of change, cooperate, almost act in blind faith.
  2. Denial – When we are forced to confront external change, we go through a stage of resistance where we’d just as soon not deal with the new, but stay with the old. What people might say; “This will never work / Who’s idea was this anyway? / This will not affect me / We don’t need this” What people might do; Sabotage efforts, withdraw, drag their feet, procrastinate, challenge, complain. People will show signs of stress, fear, anger, anxiety and/or frustration, suspicion. In any change, it is the transition, not the change that people resist.
  3. Confusion – This is where people start to accept the need for change but grapple for ways to proceed beyond the known into the unknown. It is a time of chaos, uncertainty and exploration of all options. What people might say; “Things are a mess, we are disorganised / I told you so / Not sure which way we’re going / No one knows what’s going on anyway / what am I supposed to do?” What people might do; Look for structure and order, bargain, adjust, look for new rules, testing ideas and options. People will show signs of confusion, frustration, willingness to learn, renewed optimism.
  4. Renewal – This stage brings a sigh of relief, a sense of hope, of embracing change with enthusiasm. It is a process of letting go, of commitment, of being open to new ways of doing things. People might say; “I get it, I see what you mean / I can see ways of making this work / It feels good now that I can see the benefits” What people might do; Co-operate, focus, plan, solve problems, learn, look for solutions. People will show signs of satisfaction, acceptance, and confidence.

Sources: Learning & Development, Vancouver Health Authority; Innovation on Demand, Allen Fahden; Intégro Learning SA, Johan Cronje, Specialist team coach & facilitator

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