Three tell-tale signs your team is in trouble and what you can do about it

According to consensus the rate of change that businesses are experiencing currently is unparalleled in history. Whether that is a wholly accurate picture is unclear but what is evident is that change is fast-past and pretty constant. If you want your organisation to succeed, then both you as leader, and those you lead, need to be able to create solutions that are fit for the ever-changing challenges at work. 

There are three tell-tale signs that your team are not best placed to operate effectively in this new world:

a. people are holding onto the old ways of doing things

b. people are resisting the new ways of doing things

c. people lack the creativity/space/time to innovate

“When Sue was here, we …”

If you hear people continually refer to the way things were in the past, there is an underlying desire to hold onto the certainty that came from  knowing how things were done. There was little effort required to work in a way that had become familiar and routine. Effective change requires letting go of the old in order to embrace the new.

As a leader if you hear this sort of commentary then you need to do two things: one is acknowledge the success and strength of past achievements whilst simultaneously explaining why the old ways of working are no longer fit for purpose. But … don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Hold onto what still works where you can as that will honour previous work and help people make the transition.

“But we’ve always done it that way”

A close cousin of the first phrase, this tends to feel a little different to me. Whilst it is a reference to the past it seems to be more resistant to a new way of doing things. It suggests that there is only one way to approach a challenge. It also strongly suggests a resistance to exploring new ways of doing things. It feels like a comment that suggest an immovability and effective change requires people to be adaptable and flexible. High quality teams we have worked with have a tendency to be constantly looking for better ways of doing things - even those that are seemingly working well currently.


I think this particular phrase can become quite toxic and if I heard from one of my team I would have a conversation with that individual to help me and them understand what it is they are concerned about; what they can bring from their experience of the old solutions to inform the new way of doing things. I would also seek to understand the concerns they have. Inaction as a leader in this context is not an option.

“Hey Boss, can I just check something with you …”

Look around your desk/work-station. Is there literally, or metaphorically, a well worn path to your desk? If so, it suggests that your team are not thinking sufficiently for themselves. The team look to you for their solutions too often. They are using you as the least line of resistance to create answers to problems i.e. you!  Even those that come to you with an idea are still looking for something from you - usually confirmation. This becomes a rapidly downward-sliding spiral. The more you help, the less you help.

Simple: adopt a coaching style as a leader. Ask questions to promote thinking and creativity. Use the naturally highly supportive nature of a coaching style in combination with high challenge, so your people realise quickly that avoiding taking ownership for creating appropriate solutions for challenges is not ok. Also ensure you reinforce innovative work by recognising it at appropriate times as publicly as feels right.

Performance Edge Partners Ltd help organisations thrive by improving the strength of their leadership bench. When you want to improve your organisational leadership, you know where to find us ... here. 

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Three tell-tale signs your team is in trouble and what you can do about it
Posted On
Sep 13, 2016
Posted In
Embedding sustainable change  Working with teams 

John Lewis
Little Hearts Matter