If you’re a new manager who has discovered your group will soon go through a reorg, here are some ways to make sure things go as smoothly as possible for you and your team.
We’ve all been through reorgs before. When you’re an individual contributor, they tend to be mysterious, often frustrating management exercises. Your boss changes suddenly, or your team is dissolved into other teams, or you’re moved into an entirely new organization and even though your job is the same, everything feels different.
Many of us go into management having had negative reorg experiences, and the first time we find ourselves on the other side of the process, it can be jarring. When you find yourself part of the group that’s in the know about a pending reorg, what should you do?
1. Don’t tell your team about the reorg too early
Let’s start with what not to do. You should not tell your team about the upcoming reorg. This might feel bad! But it’s important to remember that as a manager, you cannot have full transparency at all times with your team.
This is not dishonest behavior; it’s one of the expectations of your job. It’s also just a bad idea. If you tell people about a reorg before things are settled, you’re leaving them to deal with the uncertainty of knowing that something is definitely coming, but not knowing what that is. Many people will imagine the worst possible outcomes, winding themselves up and experiencing a lot of undue emotional angst for what may turn out to be a minor event for them.
Telling your team about a reorg before the decisions are made and it is time to communicate to them is unprofessional and disruptive, so resist the urge to do it.
2. Learn the company’s goals for the reorg
So, what should you do? Use the time you have to, first, learn about the goals of the reorg, and second, try to make it as productive and beneficial as possible. In learning about the goals, you are trying to make it easy to sell this reorg to your team when the time comes. They will feel so much better if you can show enthusiasm and explain the drivers of the change.
Dig into your curious self and really listen to the reasoning even if you are skeptical about the reasons you are given. Try not to get dragged into speculation about the internal politics driving things; as a new manager, there is not much value in guessing about power plays happening above you (particularly in a big organization). You want the facts and the talking points: what are we hoping to accomplish? How will the new organization be better suited to success?
Sometimes the truth of a reorg is that it is driven by necessity. Someone is leaving, and things need to shuffle because there isn’t bandwidth to sustain the current structure. If this is the case, it’s okay to own up to that, and hopefully your management chain is mature enough to admit that to you.
3. Share ideas and advocate for yourself and others
Even if the reorg is driven by necessity, it doesn’t mean you can’t try to find some good in the forced exercise. For example: are there teams which have been separated for historic reasons and would benefit from working closer together? Can the reorg support that?
If you have ideas and know that things aren’t settled yet, suggest them to the group, or to your manager if you aren’t part of the working group. Try not to just share ideas that benefit you personally; maybe there is a manager that you admire and think should have a bigger remit, or someone you want to sponsor for leadership because you believe in their potential. The goal is to get the best outcome, whatever happens.
Speaking of personal benefit, if you want more scope, make sure that is clear. That goes double if you don’t think you can handle more scope, or want to reduce your scope. If you know people on your team would want to be considered for roles in a new team, advocate for them to be considered. Yes, it might be painful to lose them, but showing them that you care about their career opportunities can earn you long-term loyalty, and an ally in the new team to keep you informed of what’s going on.
4. Think about how your team is likely to react, and tailor your communication to account for that
As things start to settle out, think about how you are going to communicate this to your team. Who is going to be unhappy? What is the message that you could give to highlight the upside of the changes? Spending some time to plan a personalized message is worth it when your team is directly impacted. Sometimes reorgs happen around you but the impact to your team is limited; in these cases, you want to reassure them their work is continuing to move forward and reiterate focus on the current projects and goals. Acknowledge the change and answer questions, but try not to let it become a source of drama and disruption when it hasn’t changed much for them.
Most importantly, if you don’t get whatever it is you wanted in the reorg, be very careful of letting that through to your team. You may decide that this is your last straw with the company, but as a professional, you owe it to the team to communicate the situation with minimal negativity. Negativity from above is a stress that your team just doesn’t deserve; they are adults, and they may well agree that the whole situation is BS, but if they are blissfully unperturbed by the changes you shouldn’t be the one to perturb them.
To recap, as a new manager, your reorg rules are:
- Communicate when the time is right, and not before.
- Learn the company’s goals for the reorg and ask questions.
- Share ideas, and advocate for yourself and others.
- Think about how your team is likely to react, and tailor your communication to account for that.
- And whatever you do, don’t add to the drama.
Following these rules won’t make the process easy, but it will minimize the stress on your team and show that you are a leader who can be trusted to navigate organizational uncertainty and change.