3 Approaches to Change

In Can you change your team? I asked you to think about what you want to change the most about your work. What you want to change dictates which approaches to change is most likely to succeed. The best approach depends largely on how much influence you have on that aspect of your work.

Analyse your problem

Now that you know what you want to change, it is time to start thinking about a solution. Most of the common problems can be sorted into three categories according to the most promising approach to get them fixed:

  • improve communication
  • improve transparency
  • improve team organization

1. Talk to each other

If your problem is within your direct sphere of influence say within your team, it is very likely that improving communication is the way to go. Such problems can be hard to spot, they are subtle because they are so close to home. Communication is all about talking with each other. Many teams are not doing that. There may be regular team meetings in your team. But are you really talking to each other? During your breaks when you talk to each other, are you talking about work?

It is always possible and also quite simple to change the way a team communicates. One of the easiest ways to get massive improvements is a daily stand-up meeting. This is taken from the agile repertoire and those 10 minutes cost no more than a coffee break yet they can provide much insight for a team.

2. Enable others to see your team

Many problems originate outside of your team. Those can be quite obvious because people tend to complain out these much more openly: it is much easier to blame people who are at least one step removed from you in the organization. Usually you do not have the power to tell people from other teams or those higher up in the hierarchy what to do. So this issue is a favorite of those who prefer complaining to doing anything.

For this you  another type of communication: Transparency. Transparency is about communicating to people outside your team. It is about showing others the status quo. It is less about fixing a problem than about making it visible to others. If you do not have direct influence on what or who you want to change this indirect method can come in helpful. Showing others facts and numbers how something influences the productivity of a team will have much more impact than any other argument.

3. Get creative and “deal with it”

The last type of issue is hardest to spot and hardest to fix. Sometimes the cause of trouble is so far removed from your sphere of influence that neither improved communication nor transparency are going to be of any help: you simply cannot change the way things are.

“Changing Requirements” can often be such an issue. Showing others, that this is causing trouble for your team is not going to have any effect. The problem may come from so far higher up the corporate food chain, that there is simply noone you can influence. This is where the right mindset plays an important role: accept the problem as fact and get creative in dealing with it. Take it as a challenge to you and your team to organize yourself in a way that you are able to work with the problem rather than against it.

For this last category I have an example: The team I was working in had trouble with  estimates and project finishing dates. The official process had a rule that in the beginning of a project the team leader should give a rough estimate how long a project would take. Later then the estimate was supposed to be refined. The problem was that the refined estimate was never taken into account for the project plan because the rough estimates were entered into the company roadmap and were never changed later. Once this was recognized by the team we skipped the rough estimate part and instead handed in the refined estimate very early in the project lifecycle. Those estimates could still be wrong but at least one of the biggest sources of wrong estimates was eliminated in that way.

Compromise

It is not easy to find such solutions. You need to have an eye for it which only comes through practice. Also it has proven to be one of the most convincing arguments to put forward:  “I know I cannot change the facts of how the estimates are taken into account, I only want to change how we deal with it!” Offering to change your side in order to solve a problem clearly shows your commitment to improve the work process and may help finding a compromise that everybody profits from.

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