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Helping Teams Through a Reorganization

November 1, 2008 by Ruth Gmehlin, Partner, Trillium Teams Inc

Acquisitions, downsizings, mergers, restructuring and other major changes requiring reorganization are commonplace today as companies try to survive and grow. These changes present new challenges and demands for all teams across the organization, and if the reorganization is badly managed it will lead to issues such as unplanned turnover, demoralization, decreased cooperation, and increased levels of stress, anxiety, and absenteeism.

Members of executive, functional and cross-functional teams must all learn to cope and adjust in the best way possible. The following is a few simple tips for managers to keep in mind in order to help keep their teams on track and productive during and after a reorganization.

Know Your Team

Each person on a team handles change differently. It is important for a manager to be aware of how receptive each team member will be to a major change, such as a reorganization, and to communicate the change in their style for the least impact moving forward. For example, some people need established routines, to feel secure and familiar with their responsibilities. Uncertainties stemming from reorganization can be extremely stressful for them and so it would be important for their manager to address issues such as job security, future of the team, and their new role when communicating upcoming changes.

How does a manager get to know how receptive their employees will be to change? There are numerous ways from having a facilitated team building session, to using assessment reports and simply taking the time to have more in-depth conversations with employees. Open communication between manager and employee is one of the simplest, rewarding and difficult tasks, especially during times of upheaval.

Be Sympathetic

Reorganizations can bring new opportunities for personal growth, accomplishment, and organizational success, but it also causes normal responses of sadness, loss, and anxiety about the future. Through promotion or layoffs, inevitably roles and reporting structures change causing teams and organizational relationships to shift. With these changes, it is inevitable that a managers and team members will have to deal with feelings ranging from anger to sadness as the new demands and responsibilities suddenly appear. One of the worst reactions is to pretend everything is just fine, even if the necessities of these changes are understood intellectually - emotionally there may still be some negative reactions to deal with.

Expressing or even acknowledging negative feelings in business culture today is considered inappropriate and employees may feel pressure to be positive and team players all the time. While this is a laudable goal, there needs to be room for people to express heart-felt negativity as well. Progressive organizations acknowledge this and during times of significant change actively solicit negative feelings from employees through forums and facilitated discussions, with the understanding that suppressing the expression of these feelings will only make things worse.

Discuss Realistic Expectations

Unfortunately, when organizations undergo restructuring, a host of unhealthy and unreasonable expectations can arise. For example, upper management may expect that productivity will resume as usual, even though the work force has been seriously reduced. Managers may need to assign the work of two or three to one person, or conversely employees are left with nothing to do while final roles and responsibilities are being flushed out.

Employees, on the other hand, might expect that management should act in a more compassionate manner, with more sensitivity to their feelings and needs, or more respect for their health, well-being, and family responsibilities. Lack of communication and vital information from company leaders will heighten the confusion and decrease motivation.

Good employer-employee relationships and good manager employee relationships are challenging to remain steady during a time of upheaval such as a reorganization; and one must recognize that unrealistic expectations can easily arise leading to disappointment, resentment, and low morale. Therefore, it is especially important for managers to take the time out with their team to discuss realistic expectations in terms of new goals, roles, and priorities, and reaffirm that the lines of communication are open.

Shifting Relationship Structure

At the root of any negative feelings which occur during a reorganization are fear and uncertainty. Lack of understanding, lack of information, lack of communication and simply the fact that at the end of the day managers do not take the time to look their employees in the eye and ask the question: How are you dealing with this? are all contributing factors. Recognizing that the entire relationship structure within the workplace shifts during a reorganization, and realizing it is up to everyone personally to rise to the challenge is the key to moving forward with success. Managers and team members need to be involved, and learn from each others' mistakes and successful solutions.