Changing gear

Be equipped to help your team through fluctuating circumstances


The one constant we can be certain of is change. The world we were used to was flipped upside down. We need to understand the human side of change to support our teams. The Centre for Creative Leadership coined the term ‘RUPT’ (rapid, unpredictable, paradoxical, tangled), which is relatable to many. Almost everything that has been ‘normal’ for us changed. The uncertainty has reached new heights as we are not sure what the future will look like – we only know it will be different from what we were used to. How can leaders support their teams?

Know your team

One of the HR trends many predicted before the COVID-19 pandemic was the increased focus on human-centricity in the workplace.
We need to know and understand what drives and motivates our team members. This will not only enable us to support them during change but also to solve challenges faster as we understand what drives each employee. Once you make a dedicated effort in getting to know and understand each team member, you may just be surprised at how this influences their behaviour for the better.

Make things beautiful

Humans crave connection and belonging. Any team member must experience and have a sense that they contribute to what is going on. If we don’t feel that we make a meaningful contribution, we see the situation as a threat, which increases our stress or cortisol levels. Any leader should be aware of social safety in the group and ensure that everyone has a sense of meaning and belonging, especially during unknown times.

Rest to recover

We all want to be part of high-performing teams. When people go the extra mile in tough times, we need to remind them and insist on a proper recovery period. In a Harvard Business Review article, “The corporate athlete”, they emphasise the importance of physical wellbeing and list this as the foundation of the high-performance pyramid. It’s best to take a recovery period every 90 minutes. This recovery should include eating something, hydrating, moving physically – changing channels mentally as well as emotionally.

Change the picture

We are wired to obsess over the negative and our brains are focused on keeping us safe, hence the overawareness
of negative experiences. How can you as a leader help? Reframe your team’s thinking patterns. Reframing is a strategy used to deal with a negative event like the pandemic, and the aim is to shift your perspective to be empowered to act. This is a practical tool for promoting alternatives and options to be innovative and is often used during problem-solving.

Recognise the good

Great leaders create moments to catch people doing things right and give recognition. Public recognition  works best. Get into the habit of recognising the team members who display a growth mindset. It can be a simple mention at the end of a meeting where someone highlighted failure as an opportunity to grow or where they have persisted instead of giving up, especially when faced with setbacks during a project.Encourage teams to give kudos to one another and highlight what they appreciate about the other’s views and input. This strategy to recognise the right behaviour sends a strong message that the right behaviour is valued.

Expand your network

Often, people don’t see the full picture and the interconnectedness of their tasks, work or function. When we experience change, we should reach out to people outside our immediate close circle. People in different departments, people with different skill sets and experience and even people in different industries might spark an idea in a direction you might not have considered yourself. Expand your network and get the benefit of ideas and inspiration outside your own boundary in times of change.

Remember to say thank you

Neuroscience has highlighted the benefits of gratitude. This habit of being grateful is extremely important for any individual and team, and the easiest way to do it is to reprogramme your subconscious mind. Encourage teams to start a meeting by highlighting the three things they are grateful for. This can become a short, powerful team ritual to build into your meeting cadence.

Know where you’re going

Knowledge workers crave autonomy and mastery. Make the most of this need by giving your team a well-defined goal; be clear on the outcome. What do you want to achieve, and what are the non-negotiables? Then, be flexible and allow the team to work out how they are going to achieve the goal. If needed, provide the boundaries or rules applicable. Simply said, explain the what and why and leave the how for the team. For any team going through change, the Kübler-Ross Change Curve model is a good starting point. This will provide you with insight and understanding of how to best support team members going through change. Change is inevitable, and by following the different stages, leaders and managers are supporting the team to cope with changes in the business. The Curve’s five stages of any change for humans are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Failing to manage change effectively can have significant consequences for companies and their employees. By prioritising a human-centred approach, corporate leaders can ensure that changes are implemented in a way that supports the wellbeing and productivity of their workforce.

Find a common purpose

A Harvard study found that companies with a high level of purpose outperform the market by 5-7% per year. The term ‘invisible leadership’ refers to the common purpose that inspires leaders and employees to act. This common purpose motivates team members to use their strengths and talents willingly.

Text | Anja van Beek Photography | fizkes, Red Vector
Anja van Beek is a talent strategist, leadership and HR expert and
executive coach. For more information, go to


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