Success with your Agile Team is all about Change Management – Here’s How

I recently realized something that I probably have always known in the back of my mind years ago – implementing new ways of working is primarily about change management. Although I have coached numerous teams successfully in my career as an Agile Coach and consultant, I found that the majority of the time, I’m using a similar approach to deploy Agile methods within different organizations that have very different business models and cultures. Despite the success I have been fortunate enough to obtain, I now question whether I could have achieved even more if I had taken a different approach to change management within organizations. I found that one of the areas that I need to improve on is how I approach resistance to change, which seems to originate from the sense of fear in most cases.

In this article, I would like to share a few ideas that I came up with over the past few weeks for addressing fear. More than likely, you have already experienced these situations yourself. I hope my tips could spark some thoughts about how you might address fear-driven resistance within your initiatives.

So, why are most of us afraid of change? The reason is simple – human beings strive for safety and predictability. Anything that is new or different scares us because it disrupts the status quo, which is usually perceived as a threat. As it turns out, many studies have shown that humans tend to see the negative sides of situations because we crave security and self-preservation; that seems like common sense right? Hence, when we try to introduce a new way of thinking and working, more often than not, we are essentially introducing a threat that could induce resistance on many levels. This is the core of why change is very hard for most people, especially in established organizations that have instituted formal rules and ways of doing things (e.g. processes, policies and procedures).

Tip #1 – Address fear individually, not as a team

Change ManagementWhen we are seeking to change how people work, we have to consider the impact to the staff at the individual level; since we are all uniquely different, how we react to change will also vary depending on our status in the company, our tenure, our level of expertise…the list goes on. The key is to hone in on what type of fear is present within each employee and then addressing them. If we try to treat entire groups of employees the same way, we create a huge risk that we are not addressing the fears effectively, which will result in the change initiative stalling or evaporating quickly due to lack of buy-in.

Tip #2 – Consider the type of fear that is present

While treating employees’ fears individually seems like a monumental effort, it is an investment that I have found to be a critical turning point in your change project. If you do not build a solid foundation of trust by reducing or eliminating fears and resistance, it will be extremely challenging to convince people to adopt new processes. Given that Agile teams rely heavily on collaboration, absence of trust will most likely disrupt any changes of a successful transition to Agile methods.

So what are the types of fears that might need to present? Here are a few common reactions to change.

  1. Loss of identity – How do I fit into the new organizational structure? This is a very common fear shared by middle management staff because Agile frameworks typically do not specify how managers will add value to this way of working. This can create significant hesitation at best, or downright pushback at worst.
  2. Loss of control – Again, this type of fear is often shared by people managers who likely have worked very hard to build fiefdoms and/or mini-empires within an organization that would likely be disrupted by an Agile construct.
  3. Loss of future – Some employees will likely disconnect from a change if they cannot see the long-term career path within this new work structure.

Tip #3 – Address each fear within your Agile team proactively and continuously

I’m sure that you are already aware of most of what I’m sharing regarding resistance and fear of change. However, it is important to keep in mind that addressing people’s fears is not a one-time event; it is an activity that should be carried out throughout the life of your change initiative because people’s fears are not static. As the change evolves over time (i.e. deploying one Agile team, then more Agile teams subsequently), people’s reactions to the change will also evolve and go through various stages. One way to manage fear is to think about it in terms of risk management; most if not all risk management techniques such as risk identification, risk response planning, etc. can be applied here to mitigate the impact of the employee reactions.

To close out this brief article about change management as it pertains to fear, the key takeaway is that we need to invest time in people and how they perceive change before and throughout the implementation of any major change so that we can build a foundation of trust and buy-in. If you can effectively address these two key elements, you are in a great position to reap the benefits of Agile ways of working.

Change Management For Digital Transformation

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Eugene Lai
Eugene Lai