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As a leader, it's essential to create a positive and supportive environment for your team, especially during times of organizational change.

As an engineering manager, supporting your team through an organizational (org) change can be overwhelming, especially when there’s an expectation for you to have all the answers.  

I faced this challenge when my department announced an org change that would create new responsibilities for my team. The news triggered a range of emotions among team members, including frustration and uncertainty.

At first, I wanted to solve everything immediately. But, after some reflection, I soon realized that I needed to demonstrate empathy and be a supportive leader. 

In this article, I'll share five steps you can take that may help you become a more supportive leader to your team during an org change.

Communicate effectively

Before you communicate change to your team, it's crucial to take a step back, assess your emotions, and thoughtfully consider what your message will be.

When I learned about the change, I initially felt frustrated and wondered why I hadn't been consulted about something that would affect my area of responsibility so deeply. Communicating with my team at that juncture would have done more ill than good, and so, with the help of my mentor, I realized that I needed time to process this shift. Only then could I prepare my message to my team.

Below I have bullet-pointed a general framework/guiding questions you can use to help you craft a helpful and supportive message to your team about a complex org change that's taking place. 

  • What three words describe how you want to be perceived on the back of this discussion with your team?
  • What is your desired outcome of the meeting?
  • Note down your thoughts (which you may refer to later) before your meeting so you have something to refer to.
  • Consider and list any questions you foresee your team raising.
  • Practice your message before you have a sit-down with your team.

Being authentic and transparent with your team members is also essential. As a leader, sharing your thoughts and emotions is okay if you reassure your team that you are committed to figuring things out together, even when things are tough. 

This approach fosters a positive environment, encourages team members to share their feelings, and helps you support them better during the change.

Put your team first

During an org change, it's easy to focus on the big picture and the company's success. However, your team members are the ones who will be directly impacted by the change. As their manager, it's your responsibility to prioritize their well-being and support them through the transition. 

I learned this lesson the hard way when I held back information from my team until the change was official. This approach made my team members feel undervalued and caught off guard when it was finally announced. 

Instead, strive to provide advance notice, and be transparent with your team members. Not only will this put you in better stead to tackle changes together, but it will also strengthen relationships across the board.

Take the time to listen to your team

Creating a culture of openness and communication is critical for effective leadership during organizational change. 

Schedule individual meetings with each team member to understand their concerns and perspectives. Ask open-ended questions like, “How do you feel about the change?” and “What could we have done better?”

Through active listening and focused attention, you can gather valuable feedback and insights that will help you better support your team. Be sure to follow up with senior leaders, implement suggested changes where possible, and provide updates to your team.

By incorporating your team's feedback into your plans, you can establish trust and show your commitment to their success.

Adapt your leadership style

As a collaborative leader, I prefer to work closely with my team to drive change and growth. However, sometimes changes may be imposed by senior leadership and this may require a different approach. 

In these instances, it's crucial to be empathetic and supportive while also taking on the role of a coach and manager.

As a coach, you need to acknowledge your team's fears and provide encouragement during uncertain times. As a manager, you need to answer questions about new expectations, priorities, promotions, and available training tools. 

Adapting your leadership style will help you meet your team where they are and guide them through the change. 

Acknowledge and support differing opinions

Even if you've done your best to communicate effectively and involve everyone in the process, some team members may feel that the org change doesn't align with their interests or goals. 

This may lead to some team members feeling disappointed. In some cases, they may even leave the organization altogether. It’s natural to feel helpless in this situation. However, you can still support them by helping to find opportunities that do align with their interests and goals. 

By acknowledging and respecting differing opinions, you can maintain a positive relationship with your team members, even during challenging times.

Final thoughts 

Big org changes can be tricky for everyone involved. As the first port of call, it’s important to remember to always check in on your own emotions and thoughts, as this will allow you to convey a clear and encouraging message to your team. 

Your team’s well-being should always be a priority, so make sure to actively listen to ways in which you may be able to better support them.  

Finally, don’t let any departures discourage you. Continue to show up for your team and empower them to thrive.