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Getting Teams to Align During Change

Sep 10, 2020 | 9m

Gain Actionable Insights Into:

  • Effective strategies to communicate and navigate change in the workplace
  • Tips to create the foundations of a diverse work environment
  • How to bridge cultural differences when integrating teams


Communication is Key

Change isn’t comfortable but it’s necessary for a company’s evolution. Changes in a company can look like a merger, acquisition, or even a round of layoffs. In my experience, there are a few useful steps that senior managers can take to ease the process and actually make it effective — even beneficial — for the company. Communication is instrumental during times of change. Anxiety and discomfort in the workplace is a natural byproduct of change, so remaining transparent in your communication to your team in these times is key.

Begin by explaining the rationale behind the changes. Rather than glossing over the changes or pretending that it is easy, show your employees that you truly care about tiding them through the period. Acknowledging their concerns and addressing them honestly and head-on can help diminish any of their fears and establish the change as something that’s necessary and crucial for the company.

Your communication should also be constant — keep your team in the loop right from the start. Ensuring a regular line of communication throughout the entire process will help your employees feel more comfortable in the midst of change, quell any fears or negative feelings, and make the whole process easier to navigate.

Emotions at Work: Boon or Bane?

Striking that delicate balance between logic and emotion at work is a tricky, but important, skill. In business, we’re taught that logic is king. However, relying on pure business logic solely doesn’t work well, especially when navigating through a challenging period. No matter how hard they try, people rarely leave their emotions out of situations, even when it comes to business decisions. Don’t dismiss emotions, because you run the risk of sidelining issues that might blow up to become larger problems.

Instead, listen to your employees to check in on how they're feeling and if it might affect their work. Empathy is one of the most important qualities in leadership, in my opinion. It’s far more effective to lean in to both your logic and emotion, but in the right balance, of course. When you’re solely motivated by emotions, you won’t be an effective communicator or leader, and conversely so.

Personally, I am more of a logical person, so I have to make a concerted effort to be more cognizant of emotions. Additionally, I usually take that extra step to ensure there is someone else on my leadership team who’s more of a “feeler”. Having that balance to complement your strengths and shortcomings is helpful. My advice to more logic-leaning leaders? Constantly remind yourself to be more mindful about the emotions of your staff, and also ask your team to hold you accountable should you slip up.

Starting From The Bottom Up

For larger teams, a method that I’ve found to be personally effective is to appoint “change ambassadors”, whether informally or formally. The role of the ambassador is to lead the change and communicate with staff, while also providing feedback to you or the senior management on any concerns that were raised. I’d also encourage actively involving your employees in the change. Consult their opinions, ask for feedback and let them participate in some of the decision-making. Help them be the drivers of change, rather than merely being on the receiving end of it. This bottom-up approach makes them feel both essential and involved in all the transitions the company is undergoing.

This begets the question: what — and how — exactly should you be communicating to your team? Depending on the size of your organisation, you could opt for town hall meetings, one-on-ones, small-group discussions, informal catch-ups or an email update. Whatever your choice, make sure you’re regular, consistent and authentic in what you’re sharing. And, because change is not a productive space to be in the long-term, the sooner you’re able to embrace new structures, processes and additions as a company, the better it is. If that isn’t possible, I’d suggest setting milestones.

A Tale of Two Companies

From my experience, mergers and acquisitions add an extra layer of complexity and challenge to when it comes to adapting to change, since it involves different groups of companies with no prior experience working together. If you look at the common failures of mergers, you’ll find that it often stems from a lack of honesty or transparency in the communication; low levels of engagement, thus resulting in employees not feeling integrated in the new structure; and a lack of respect from the acquiring company to the cultures or processes of the acquired company.

Another question to consider when it comes to mergers and acquisitions is choosing whom to lead. Do you go with the existing leaders or someone new? In my opinion, it's important to strike a balance between the required synergies of integration and the firm’s core competencies. Choosing the right person to navigate this is key. There is also the technical side to integration: that is, deciding which functions to integrate, whether it’s the sales and marketing and HR processes to IT or even the actual products.

Lastly, you’ll also need to discern how to best integrate these. Determine your end goal — only then can you decide on the right next steps to get there. There is no cookie-cutter method for a successful merger, as it differs from organisation to organisation, as well as its people and culture. Ultimately, honesty, engagement and respect are the key ingredients in a successful merger and acquisition. True, successful integration happens when both sides view the newly-established process and structures as a joint effort.

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Leon Yeo

Former Chairman and EVP, APAC

Wood Mackenzie



Developing Teams Change Management