Sonia McDonald

Team Resistance: Problem or Opportunity?

There are a lot of training programs out there that teach leaders how to overcome their team members’ resistance when introducing change. In my opinion, too many of them approaches resistance as a problem, and therefore miss the golden opportunity that it actually offers.

Typically leaders are taught to look at the situation and attempt to remove the fear their team is feeling, but what many are really doing is making the situation worse, and pushing the team towards the very thing it fears.

Think about it. When a child has a nightmare because there is a mean dragon under the bed, what does the parent usually do? They turn on the lights and help the child safely look under the bed. Nope, no dragons there. You probably had a similar experience as a child. Let me ask you this. What happened when mum or dad left the room again and turned that light back off? The fear returned, even though you knew in your own mind that there was nothing to be afraid of.

Fear isn’t always rational, but it can point to a range of factors that help the fear live on.

It all comes down to attitude, doesn’t it? People can see change as something to fear – to resist- or something to embrace. The same can be said of your attitude as a leader. You can see resistance as something to overcome or as something to embrace.

By now, you’re probably looking for reasons to embrace something as frustrating as team resistance, so let me share some of the great things that I see in the situation.

1. Resistance doesn’t mean refusal. It’s the adult equivalent of “I don’t wanna…” It means that your team members have allowed the concept to start rattling around in their brains as they weigh up the pros and cons. They are working it through at their own pace, and the more they do it, the more likely they are to accept it.

2. It opens up an opportunity for conversation as a team, and often that will reveal team or organizational problems that you were not aware of. They might look small and inconsequential, but don’t underestimate their sting. They can be more of a hold up than any major incident.

3. When you are put on the spot and have to give reasons for change or the change process, the quality of your choices soon becomes clear. Bad ideas and poor reasoning are easily uncovered, and that gives you the change to halt change, or to eliminate strategies that won’t work.

4. People don’t adapt to change at the same rate. Resistance slows down the speed of change. While that might frustrate the ideas people behind the change, it gives everyone else time to catch up emotionally and logically. Under these circumstances, resistance functions as a healthy mechanism for your team.

Instead of teaching our leaders to overcome resistance, we should be showing them how to embrace it, and how to show their teams that they recognize their feelings as a positive in the process. Acknowledge the dragons under the bed because now you know what you’re dealing with. Throughout this process, leaders are being presented with a golden opportunity to build their relationship with their teams. They can now prove that it’s safe to follow them into the darkness under the bed, and into the changing future.

So, when you come up against team resistance, as you certainly will one day, be excited at the opportunity you are being given.

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