Preparing for our new ways of working after a crisis

 In Change management, Coaching, Culture, Leadership

Going through a change means starting at point A and ending up at point B. Point A is the nice, comfortable normal status that you’re used to and point B is the ‘new normal’. 

A before and after

In the natural world, a good analogy to think about is the butterfly. It starts its life as a caterpillar. It’s probably quite happy being a caterpillar, eating plants and avoiding birds. While it’s a caterpillar, it doesn’t know what being a butterfly will be like because it’s never been one before. 

Then change happens. It needs to hunker down in its cocoon and start the metamorphosis. It’s natures self-isolation. That transformation can take anything between one and three weeks. During this time, it goes through a number of small changes that all add up to one dramatic outcome. 

The butterfly emerges exultant from the cocoon, and it is now the new normal. A butterfly works out what to do in this completely different state because it’s been through its change-process in its own time.  

Metamorphosis of teams

During any change, but particularly in a crisis, our teams go through this period as a collective whole. Think back to a few months ago when your team was settled in a way of working together.

Then a crisis happens. It doesn’t have to be a global pandemic to be a crisis or even to effect a change within your team. It just happens, while this blog is being written, that we are in a global crisis together all at the same time.

Now your team’s way of working has been turned upside down.  And you’ve spent the past six or seven weeks adapting to a new way of working. You might even be getting into something of a groove here. Or you might not. There is no right answer in this situation.

Yet, what we all need to recognise is that what we are experiencing is a step in working towards our ‘new normal’. Our future ‘normal’ is how our teams will look when the crisis has passed, and when we return to moving around and living something like we used to, last year.

Teams still have change steps to take within their journey.

Change Curve

This is known as a change curve. We have a lovely diagram to show you how it might look:

The change curve is standard, however, the way people go through it is very different. Some may jump straight in to accept, whereas others may remain to the left (the more emotional side) for a long time. You don’t need to go through all the stages of the curve, and you can go back and forth. It’s the way you move through it that changes.

Circumstance can affect how you move through the curve. In our situation today you may have people who are furloughed, team members working from home, or people going into work every day.  

Even those team members getting used to working remotely will have other commitments going on. They may be juggling the homeschool schedule, supporting vulnerable family members, or living in shared accommodation where there is little space. 

All of these things impact the change within the group. 

Kubler-Ross

It’s no accident that this idea of the change curve originates from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ research into bereavement.

The changes that we are working through at the moment are a lot like changes through grief. And everyone is on a different point in their journey. It’s not the grief of bereavement, although we need to be mindful that some of our team may have lost someone. The grief we are talking about in this instance is the loss of old ways of working.  

Additionally, the changes your team is going through are unique. They may look similar to the changes of other teams in the organisation but they will not be the same.

Managing multiple change curves

Once we realise our team members are all on their individual journeys and that the team as a whole has a collective change curve, we need to manage that curve so that when we hit the next stage of this crisis our teams are prepared, for we know there is more to come.  

We can do this by reflecting on how far we’ve come in our change journey, what we’ve learned, and what we can apply to the next stage. 

Most importantly, the thing which underpins successful stages during change is a high level of psychological safety

The teams which are in the best position to cope with change are the ones who have high levels of psychological safety. This means they feel able to speak up if something isn’t working in the future ‘normal’. 

It’s your team member who says they’ve enjoyed being at home and suggests a way for this to work in the long term. 

Your team member is the person who is looking forward to the return to the office, but wants to ask what the plan is, rather than sitting at home and worrying. 

In fact, there will be deep feelings of uncertainty in every team right now. Team dynamics have changed and no one knows what the ‘new normal’ will look like. 

Your team’s resilience to all of these unknowns begins with psychological safety

Working with the change curve

When it comes to the change curves that our teams are working through, there is no point in fighting against any of the natural responses now happening. It’s better that we feel safe enough to share where we are on the journey. 

For example, everyone will experience a lull in energy and motivation. This is completely normal and part of the process. 

When we look at this through the lens of psychological safety and with a good deal of reflection on the journey we’ve made, our teams will be in a better position to reach the ‘new normal’ working as the most constructive group they can be. 

We can start to do this through: 

At the moment, we are all in the butterfly’s cocoon. It’s a useful metaphor because many of us have been cocooned at home for quite some time, learning about who we are under stresses and pressures. 

Our teams are like the caterpillars. They are breaking down the old ways of working from two months’ ago and are about to start rebuilding them into something new and even more beautiful. 

It really is an exciting time. 

The bonus of this pandemic is that we have a template against which we can judge any of the other crises that may happen in our organisations in future. We have a point of reference that we can use. And if we reflect upon what has and has not worked this time, we can apply it next time.

 

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