Leading Transformational Change in Your Team

Great leaders develop teams of smart, experienced employees who understand their industry and job role, work well with others, and hit their goals. The best leaders go further, welcoming new ideas and innovations that push the envelope. But in today’s fast-moving workplaces, change isn’t optional. All of us must lead transformational change to get the most out of our teams and keep our companies ahead of the curve.

Megatrends such as climate change and artificial intelligence (AI) are only accelerating. Your team’s best practices can quickly become outdated or even counterproductive. Transformational change management requires a new mindset from leaders, one that asks teams to become more close-knit and collaborative across the organization. 

However, transformation performance has slipped from pandemic highs, according to Boston Consulting Group, and employee buy-in remains a struggle. Team leaders must focus on this if they want their organizations to realize lasting change. Coaching even one person to change can be challenging; doing so is exponentially more difficult with groups of people who have different agendas, mindsets, and ways of thinking. But that’s the job for today’s leaders. 

Learn more about what transformational change looks like at the team level, how team leaders can inspire successful change efforts, and how Whole Brain® Thinking can help.

What Is Transformational Change?

Transformational change is a significant and profound shift in an organization's structure, culture, processes, and/or strategies that results in substantial and lasting improvements. Transformational change aims to create a new and improved state that's better aligned with the organization's vision and goals. This approach is becoming more common — and more important — in the VUCA world in which most companies operate today.

Transformational change goes beyond incremental improvements or minor adjustments. It is a fundamental shift in mindset, behaviors, and ways of working. This type of change requires teams to embrace new ways of thinking, challenge norms, and embrace experimentation and innovation. 

Transformational change at the organizational and team levels varies by degree and scope. Here’s a brief overview of each.

Organizational Transformation

Companies undergo transformational change when they make large-scale moves that impact the entire organization. These include changes to the organization's mission and values, company structure, technology, or business model. Transformation often occurs in response to external factors such as market trends, technological advancements, or shifts in customer preferences.

Team Transformation

Transformational change at the team level is more localized than organizational changes, although both can create drastic, wide-ranging effects. One example of transformational change is when a team is reassigned to new job roles as part of an organizational restructuring. Other forms of team transformation include technological shifts or new business models. 

Incremental Change vs. Transformational Change

Change covers any alterations or adjustments within a business. These can be small, such as modifying existing practices, procedures, or tactics. Such incremental change often focuses on increasing efficiency, solving immediate challenges, or making other relatively minor improvements. Leaders must still help teams navigate change in the workplace, but there’s less chance of confusion or ambiguity.

Transformational change, on the other hand, involves a fundamental and profound shift in how a business operates. This process reinvents the organization's culture, strategy, structure, or processes, usually because of changing market dynamics, technological advancements, or competitive pressures. 

Many incremental changes can be instituted immediately. Transformational changes, by contrast, challenge ingrained beliefs, assumptions, and practices. This process pushes teams and organizations to reimagine their vision, mission, or values. Also in play are strategic elements, such as the business model, customer experience, and market positioning. 

Transformational change has a bigger scope, greater impact, and, oftentimes, a longer timeline than incremental change.

5 Ways Team Leaders Can Drive Transformational Change

The Role of Team Leaders in Creating Transformational Change

Change requires everyone’s participation, but it starts with leaders, who must decide what the change will be and how it will unfold. This is just as true for team leaders as it is for CEOs. Managers ensure everyone is aligned, engaged, and committed to the transformation. By contrast, lack of buy-in and poor communication are major reasons transformation efforts fail.

Here are some key tasks for transformational leaders who want to inspire employees to embrace change.

Build a Compelling Vision for Change

Articulate a clear and compelling vision for the impending changes. Outline the desired future state, the benefits of the change, and how this shift aligns with the team's goals and objectives. Sharing the vision helps them understand their role, get comfortable with the change, and prepare to contribute.

As you communicate this vision, rely on guidance from organizational leadership so your messaging aligns. Then, incorporate what you know about your team’s role and your people’s personalities, thinking preferences, and goals.

Continue Communicating the Need for Change

Outlining the vision is an important first step in winning employee buy-in for change, but it’s only the beginning. As the transformation process unfolds, ongoing communication is essential to buoy employee morale, help them understand their responsibilities, and share progress. 

Team leaders must communicate in multiple ways — providing instruction, clarifying uncertainty, answering questions, helping employees through fears and roadblocks, and passing along regular status updates. 

This task is even more important when leaders overhaul their teams and ask employees to make drastic changes to their job roles, responsibilities, or titles. The disruption can make employees feel uncertain, fearful, or upset, especially if they believe it’s bad for their careers. In those cases, leaders must help employees process the changes and find a productive way forward.

Involve Team Members in the Change Process

While transformation starts at the top, success requires everyone’s involvement. The same is true when transforming your team individually or leading them through a broader organizational change. 

Leaders must create opportunities for team members to contribute their ideas, insights, and perspectives to the change process. Even if the strategy has been set, employees will appreciate opportunities to contribute feedback as changes are implemented. This approach fosters ownership and empowerment, increasing the likelihood of success.

Provide Support and Resources 

Transformational change requires the right resources in the right places. As you lead your team through change, ensure they have the support and resources to do what you ask of them. For example, if you ask employees to take on new responsibilities or switch job roles, they’ll need training, clear goals, and key performance indicators (KPIs) to help them measure progress. 

If the change involves hardware and software, employees need access, training, and oversight to help them master the new tools. Likewise, leadership support through coaching and mentoring helps team members take ownership of their piece of the change process and deliver long-term productivity gains. Leadership support also alleviates resistance and builds employee confidence.

Monitor Progress and Make Adjustments

Transformational change is a dynamic process requiring ongoing monitoring and adjustments. Team leaders and employees alike should understand what metrics and milestones matter for tracking progress. Managers should incorporate change updates into ongoing feedback, one-on-one check-ins, and team meetings. With regular updates, everyone feels informed. Adjustments are easier to implement because people know why additional changes are needed. By actively monitoring progress, leaders keep the change initiative on track and improve the odds of success.

Drive Team Transformation With Whole Brain® Thinking 

Whole Brain® Thinking is a framework that recognizes and leverages the diverse thinking preferences and cognitive abilities of individuals, teams, and organizations. It’s based on the understanding that each person has distinct preferences as to which thinking styles they prefer to access — but that they have access to and potential in all of them. 

When teams understand and embrace each other’s thinking preferences, they gain a wider perspective of each other’s skills and potential. By tapping into and integrating these different modes of thinking, we can improve problem-solving, decision-making, communication, and business performance.

The Whole Brain Model is the basis for ‌the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument® (HBDI®) assessment and provides a framework for understanding and describing our thinking patterns, which emerge as preferences in four distinct quadrants: 

  • Analytical (Blue)
  • Practical/Structural (Green)
  • Relational (Red)
  • Experimental/Innovative (Yellow)

Here are some transformational change examples where leaders can apply Whole Brain® Thinking with their teams.

Communicate in a Whole Brain® Manner

To get people on board with change, you have to be able to answer the questions and concerns that matter most to them. However, not everyone approaches challenges the same way, and so you should consider different backgrounds, experiences, and thinking styles. By providing context and detail while understanding people’s concerns and goals, you keep them from making assumptions about what the changes really mean.

Consider these four questions when implementing any change process as a starting point:

  • What is the business case for change? (Analytical thinking)
  • What is the vision of the new future state? (Experimental thinking)
  • What needs to be done or scheduled to make it happen? (Practical thinking)
  • Who needs to be involved? What partnerships are needed? (Relational thinking)

Foster a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Change becomes easier when your team members are accustomed to trying new things and embracing agility. Some workplaces are attuned to this mindset, such as a team running a manufacturing production line that already practices continuous workflow improvement, identifying bottlenecks, and looking for efficiencies.

When driving transformation with Whole Brain® Thinking, consider how your team members might motivate themselves to strive for continuous improvement. Analytically and structurally minded employees like to see measurable progress and timetables, so KPIs and clear deadlines can help them tackle transformation projects. 

Other employees might be inspired by working collaboratively to improve (Relational) or by the opportunities to dream up, suggest, and pilot improvements (Experimental). All of these approaches can help a team transform itself and sustain those gains.

Build a Diverse Change Team

Diversity comes in many forms, including race, gender, ethnic or cultural background, and religion. Your team can benefit from all of these forms of diversity as well as cognitive diversity when these differences are viewed as positive opportunities rather than obstacles or dividers. 

Strive to build teams that include individuals with different thinking styles. You can tap into this broad range of perspectives and ideas when transformation is required. This helps the transformation go smoother, and employees can also help each other find a new perspective or plan of attack when they do struggle with areas of change.

For example, change management requires new ideas (Innovative thinking), winning buy-in (Relational), managing a complex timeline with many tasks and to-dos (Structural), and connecting it all to business outcomes (Analytical). While everyone can access those quadrants of thinking, some are more natural than others. A diverse change team can manage all of these areas effectively by combining and amplifying their preferred ways of thinking.

Encourage New Perspectives in Problem-Solving

Transformational change often requires innovative solutions, both when planning the transformation and when challenges arise during implementation. Some employees gravitate to this type of experimental thinking, but not everyone does so easily. 

However, everyone is capable of creativity and open-mindedness. Help your team see that they can contribute important feedback to ideas, explore alternatives, offer planning suggestions, or map the transformation objectives to business goals. Any transformation project must ultimately be attainable, and that also takes creativity — even if it’s not the type of creativity we usually consider.

Frame Change as a Learning Opportunity

Change requires employees to develop new skills and adapt to new ways of working. Encourage employees to view transformational change as a career development opportunity in the “next normal.”

While many team members will embrace the opportunity to learn, understand that they might have different motivations. Help your employees see how learning can help them be more collaborative teammates (Relational), be more productive (Practical), deliver better results (Analytical), and contribute new ideas and innovation (Experimental). 

Help Your Team Embrace Transformational Change

Transformational change is inevitable in today’s economy. And while team leaders already must balance individual responsibilities with day-to-day management, they must be ready to enact larger-scale changes within their teams. This isn’t easy; employees might question the changes or fear how they’ll be affected. Tight timelines and business pressures add to this uncertainty.

As you manage the transition, focus on what you can control: Explain the vision, communicate constantly, give your employees opportunities to contribute, and embrace their diversity in all forms. Whole Brain® Thinking can unify your team, help them embrace their diversity of thought, and tackle business-critical transformation challenges enthusiastically instead of fear or resistance. 

Learn how Whole Brain® Thinking supports change management and innovation at work.

The four-color, four-quadrant graphic, HBDI® and Whole Brain® are trademarks of Herrmann Global, LLC.