Koan #20: A New Way Of Doing Things

We usually send the situation in one newsletter and results in a following newsletter. Here the situations and results are copied verbatim into one post. Hence, when it says 'you' - it means the subscribers who voted in newsletter, not readers of this archive.
This situation was published in the 14 Jun 2021 newsletter.


It has been two weeks since you joined a new team as their manager, and already noticed an opportunity for a change in the team’s ways of working. You call everyone into a meeting and present your adjustments to the process. The team agrees, but the overall reception is lukewarm. A few days later in a 1:1 with one of the direct reports, they admit that they don’t think the changes are good. No one else in the team has mentioned it. What would you do?

Option A - Follow up with a teamwide meeting and explain the plan to everyone in more detail.

Option B - Thank them for the feedback and ask them to try and follow the new way of working at least for some time.

Option C - Revert to the original way of working, and get the team involved in rethinking the improvement.

Option D - Try to gather more feedback from other direct reports in their 1:1s.


The caveat that makes this situation different from overcoming resistance is that the manager has only been with the team for two weeks. So it is less about resistance to change and more about trust. Quite a few subscribers identified this in the free form answer section too. Therefore the resolution to this question requires self-reflection and openness from the manager.

A second presentation to the team, as in Option A, done off the back of the feedback from the direct report, is akin to bulldozing through. It might win a few minds over, but it is a gamble with trust as the credit. If the change works the manager may feel encouraged to continue similarly with other decisions. If it does not, the trust is diminished, and since the decision and the result are far apart in time. It takes so much more self-awareness to understand why the team is reluctant to listen. Bulldozing through can be used tactically, but when used without discretion, it is not sustainable.

Thanking them for the feedback and asking them to give the change time, Option B, is a more empathetic response. The dissatisfaction is acknowledged, the direct report is still requested to give a credit of trust, but framed in this way, the option leaves the door open to go back to the previous way of working. However, as we’ll soon explore, without any other follow-up, it is a missed opportunity to learn more from the rest of the team.

Reverting to the original way of working, Option C, and seeking the team’s input sounds good in practice but depends on the context. Was the change to the new system a mistake, or was it warranted? The change may be needed, but the way it was implemented was imperfect and done without consulting with the team. It is impossible to say just from reading the situation description. Therefore, reverting back without trying to get more feedback from others is, in our view, not productive.

Not everyone will be upfront and open with issues, especially with a new manager, precisely because of trust. No one wants to get into the bad books early in the relationship. That is why one person sharing important feedback in their 1:1, which relates to the whole team, is a good cue to check the “temperature” of the issue with the rest of the team, Option D. Maybe it is just one person, but maybe they were “elected” to first bring the matter to the manager, and the way the manager reacts will count towards building trust or not.

Trying to make a mark fast, assuming that everyone sees the issues the same way and wants to solve them the same way, are common mistakes new managers make early in their career. The good thing is that a good listening session can help set a manager up for success. So, how could a listening session look for this scenario? Here are a couple of question templates that could help:

  • What do you think about X?
  • Are there more important issues than X?
  • Have you tried changing X before? What were the results?
  • What could make X better?

Asking these simple questions and listening before starting to change things can set a new manager up for success. It turns the relationship from “I know what to do” to “How can I help you?” and contributes to building trust.