Recognising reactions to change, and responding to them

By Lucy Loh and Elisabeth Goodman

This is the second in our series of blogs on “Enhancing Team Effectiveness in a time of change” based on our forthcoming publication in Business Information Review, and other publications and seminars in progress.

[Note – If you like this blog you may be interested in purchasing a copy of The Effective Team’s Change Management Workbook – available from RiverRhee Publishing at £10.00 plus packaging and posting.]

In our previous blog (Enhancing team effectiveness in a time of change – an introduction), we described the challenges being faced by organisations, teams and individuals and the impact that these changes have on them.  Today’s blog focuses more on recognising reactions to change by individuals and in teams, and how to respond to them.

Understanding the change cycle: the Kübler-Ross change curve

This approach was developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and was based on her work with people confronting grief.  It illustrates the typical stages that people go through in response to change, and is at the core of most approaches to managing change.

Whether the people affected view a particular change as predominantly positive and to be welcomed, or as something negative, they will go through some version of this change cycle.

In this description, the stages are named for the prevalent emotion or activity experienced.

When a substantial change happens, many parts of the organisation are affected and go through this curve and at different rates.  Within any one team, the individual team members go through the change curve at different rates.

Using the change curve to support team effectiveness during change

It is important for leaders of affected teams to recognise that they too are travelling through the change curve.  They will need the emotional resilience to travel through the change curve quickly themselves.  This gives them the capacity to monitor the responses of the team members, supporting each one according to where they are in the cycle, and assisting them if they get ‘stuck’ at a particular point.

The flexible leader will recognise that some members will focus on the rational reasons for the change and view it as a ‘task’, whilst others are more likely to focus on the people impact and the disruption to relationships.  Both are likely to go through the curve in different ways, and so require a different management approach.

All change involves ‘letting go’ of something, and it is important to actively create space for this to happen.  In one reorganisation where a team was broken up, they held a celebration party, where they acknowledged all the learning and accomplishments they had achieved together; this was their way of letting go in a positive way, and developing energy and resources for each of them to take forwards.

In another team, where a team member was stuck in depression, the team leader spent time listening to that person and their sadness about what they were leaving behind, and then gradually coached them into seeing some possibilities in the future.  Other resilient team members can also support their colleagues in an informal way.

The people with whom the team interacts (its stakeholders, suppliers and customers) may also be going through change, and so the same principles apply.  At a time of change, a number of people will not be operating at their best, and yet much is expected of them.  It is a time for mutual respect and support!

Our next blog will explore the tools that can be used with teams to support them during their change journey.


Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. Elisabeth has 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry where she has held line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and in Lean Sigma and is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), and APM (Association for Project Management).

Lucy Loh is the Owner and Principal Consultant at Lucy Loh Consulting, a consultancy that helps businesses and organisations develop their business plans, and manage change in their organisations and teams to be able to deliver those plans.  She is also a RiverRhee Consulting Associate.  Lucy has 25 years’ experience in BioPharma, where she has held management roles in strategy development and all aspects of performance management, as well as extensive internal consulting.  Lucy has expertise and experience in organisation development, benefits management and in designing and leading business change. She is a certified Master Practitioner of NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP), which enhances her work in change management and individual coaching.  She is also an accredited trainer with the Institute of Leadership and Management for Strategic Leadership.