The Winning Formula to a Successful Change Team

Manoj Patel
Posted: 10/14/2015
I’ve been asked by many of my clients: "What’s the best way to pull a successful change team together?" Now, there are many views on this out there but I like to keep it simple! As Bruce Lee once said: "simplicity is genius".
Firstly, you need to look at the type of person you want to entrust with improving your organization – Attitude is everything! A positive, can-do attitude wins every time for me over any number of MBA qualifications, so let’s take a look at teams…
There are lots of definitions as to what makes a team. One of the better definitions states:"… a team is a group of people who co-operate and work together to achieve a goal in a way which allows them to accomplish more than individuals working alone could have achieved."
Ideally, they will all be working together towards commonly understood, shared and achievable objectives.
Obviously, when a new team is formed, it is very rare that it will perform effectively from the start. There is a development process that each successful team must go through. This development process has three distinct stages:
  • Chaotic
  • Formal
  • Mature

Chaotic Stage

The chaotic stage is the very first stage that a new team goes through. As the name suggests, a team in the chaotic stage of development will exhibit typical characteristics. These include:
  • Inadequate planning
  • Not enough time given to setting clear, agreed objectives
  • Making too many assumptions, particularly about objectives, targets and team roles
  • Underestimating problems
  • No clear procedures, agreed ways of working or development of understanding
  • Poor communication within the team (during discussions, some team members will dominate while others will not be able to get their ideas heard)
  • Everyone tending to talk at once (this, coupled with poor listening skills, will lead to ideas that are lost)
  • Leadership is either non-existent, unclear, too heavy-handed or not accepted by the rest of the team
It is easy to see that teams in the chaotic stage will fail more often than they succeed. However, these failures will be ‘explained away’ and ‘glossed over’ instead of being analyzed objectively.
Chaotic teams will be fun for a while. Team members will tend to overcome uncertainty by diving headlong into the task without really giving thought as to what they are doing or how they are working together.
Eventually though, the team will begin to react against the chaotic stage by becoming more formal in its approach. There is a danger however, that the team will overreact and introduce formal procedures that are too rigid and restraining.

The Different Stages of your Change Team

Now we’ve looked at the early stages of forming a team, lets discuss the ‘formal’ and ‘mature’ stages:

Formal Stage

The formal stage is likely to be more successful, but this success will be limited by inflexibility. The team at this stage of its development tends to be too regimental and fails to utilize the full capability of all its members. This is due largely to over-rigidly defined roles within the team. Probably the worst case of this being that far too much dependence is placed on the leader to co-ordinate, plan, and make decisions as well as to control.
Typical characteristics of formal teams include:
  • Strong likelihood of overreacting - becoming too formal in procedures and roles
  • Strong leadership often seems the answer to problems of the chaotic stage - the leader is often criticized for failure to be strong enough during chaotic stage
  • Formal/specific roles (timekeeper/secretary etc.)
  • Poor flexibility
  • Not making use of capabilities of members

Mature Stage

Gradually, the team begins to develop out of the formal stage and starts to take ‘liberties’ with its own procedures without slipping back into chaos. This progress to maturity is not guaranteed however.
If the team rebels against the rigidities of the formal stage too early, it can easily slip back to the chaotic stage.
On the other hand, some teams get stuck in the formal stage and never quite reach the mutual understanding and trust needed to move to maturity.
The breakthrough to the mature stage usually occurs when the team realizes that some parts of their formal procedures are of no use to the particular task they are doing. The team cuts corners and finds it can cope.
Typical characteristics of mature teams include:
  • Procedures for objective setting, planning, discussions etc. that are agreed and based on the task or situation
  • Procedures that are flexible rather than rigid
  • Team roles that are more relaxed, with members contributing on the basis of what they can offer in a specific situation, not according to rigidly defined responsibilities
  • Communication that is good within the team. (ideas and suggestions are given freely and are listened to and built on)
  • Leadership style is more ‘involving and participative’ as the situation dictates
The team in its mature stage of development is likely to be very effective.

Getting your team to continue to perform

One of my recent posts I discussed what makes a successful change team, so, you've formed a team and you know they will go through the stages of chaotic, formal to mature but how can you get them there and ensure they continue to perform at a stellar level?

Team Reviews

To move from the chaotic stage to the mature stage, the team must build on its experiences. It is commonly believed that you learn from experience. Actually, you gain understanding from reviewing and thinking about your experiences. You can then draw appropriate conclusions and plan to modify your behavior in the future.
You learn by doing and understand by reviewing

The Learning Cycle

There is a procedure for conducting a team review. It is a skill that should be learned and practiced.


Start by analyzing your team results:
  • Did you achieve the task?
  • What aspects of the task did you do well?
  • What aspects of the task did you not complete satisfactorily?
  • Did individual roles, contributions, activities and attitudes benefit the team?
REMEMBER, your analysis should be factual and honest.
Analyze why you performed the way you did. You need to shift the focus of the review from ‘ what happened’ to ‘WHY it happened!’ Your analysis should cover both task and process-related aspects - how your team approached the task; how you as team members worked together.
Having focused on the causes you can now identify what strengths you can maintain and develop and what weaknesses you need to overcome. Again, this should include both process and task-related aspects of your performance.
It is important at this stage that you adopt the ‘Pareto Principle’. Try to concentrate on the ‘significant few’ factors or weaknesses - the ones that are causing you the most problems. Once you have eliminated these, you can then move on to the lesser concerns.
REMEMBER, do not try to change everything immediately. Instead, use the Continuous Improvement principle of aiming for steady, continuous progress rather than risky wholesale change.
Plan for improved performance in the future.
Try not to forget, a good review is just as concerned with the future as it is with the past.
You are not carrying out a review as a ‘post-mortem’; you are attempting to understand what you have done in the past so that you can improve in the future.
Having carried out your review you can develop a plan which:
  • Maintains and builds on the strengths of the team
  • Overcomes the weaknesses identified
Most importantly, your plan for improvement should be:
  • Feasible
  • Practical
  • Understood by everyone
  • Able to identify who will do what
  • Clearly directed and agreed by all for the next task
This completes the learning cycle.
Manoj Patel
Posted: 10/14/2015


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