Making Change a Source of Inspiration – not Fear – for Teams



For many organizations, particularly growing ones, the inability to adjust to change can fuel an air of dread and uncertainty. Without proper management, new software, systems, equipment, processes, etc. often sink a company’s morale and productivity and can even lead to the backlash.

However, the challenge with managing change goes beyond the technical aspects of a transition and is rooted in the complexity of human nature. Rather than a symptom of an inflexible attitude, change resistance, at its core, is a neurological phenomenon. We all have a hard-wired tendency to avoid change, which registers in our prefrontal cortex. Though this area of the brain operates nimbly to process multiple threads of logic, it can reach a breaking point when processing change. This sets off the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, into a fight or flight response. When the amygdala is triggered, the more you try to convince people that you’re right and they’re wrong, the more they push back. Leadership consultant and author David Rock wrote that in this state, “The brain will try to defend itself from threats. Our brains are so complex that it is rare for us to be able to see any situation in exactly the same way as someone else.”

This understanding helps give us a more human, empathetic framework for managing the different personalities that change affects. Here are the seven personalities and how to manage them:

The Skeptic

For a skeptic, the “why” is at the heart of every decision. People need a full grasp of its purpose in order to begin the process of acceptance. This persona is quick to root out wastes of time and resources and brings clarity to decisions. But skeptics can quickly shoot down new tools, ideas, or methods before they’re explored, leaning on outdated assumptions or irrelevant evidence to defend their point. This can prevent other team members from voicing differing thoughts or new ideas out of fear.

To manage a skeptic, first, try to understand the skeptic’s position. Perhaps another set of technology tools soured them and demotivates them from trying another one. Seek their opinion on a new tool or practice you want to implement and ask them to thoroughly evaluate it before making a final decision. Involve them from the start and allow them to have some skin in the game. The more the Skeptic feels invested, the more they’ll reserve judgment.

The Eager Beaver

Eager Beavers require little, if any, guidance. They enthusiastically see the value of any new tool right away, continually asking for updates and pushing for everything to move into the new system ASAP.

While this enthusiasm for trying new tools and processes is a huge plus, it can present a problem as eagerness can easily give way to impulsiveness. Making too many changes before you fully understand how they work or how they’ll impact others can cause more harm than good.

Like the Skeptic, it’s important to involve Eager Beavers at the start and use their enthusiasm as an asset. Sit with them and map out the road to success so they’ll know exactly how an effective roll-out will work. Reviewing the overall strategy and goals will allow them to see how each piece fits into the whole. A light touch and patience are required to reign in the beaver’s enthusiasm when it crosses into impulsiveness without crushing it completely.

The Free Spirit

Free spirits take an improvisational approach to life, preferring flexibility and taking things as they come. They chafe with too much process and are more comfortable with a quick chat than extensive documentation. While their adaptability to whatever may come is a welcome strength, their aversion to structure can lead to gaps in visibility amongst the team and breakdowns in communication.

While Free Spirits may not always follow convention, their flexibility and calmness in the face of chaos are huge assets as your team transitions. Getting buy-in from Free Spirits involves giving them some autonomy so they feel a measure of freedom. This does not mean they need access to everything, but give them a little breathing room at first and then expand as they progress.

The Technophobe

Technology is changing so fast that it can cause whiplash for everyone, especially for those not so tech-savvy. Tech speak might as well be another language for these folks. They find comfort and stability in routines and patterns, so when new solutions replace that familiarity, technology becomes an enemy rather than a resource.

You must slowly wean technophobes off their notebooks and calendars. Allow them to keep their tools, no matter how outdated, and duplicate their efforts. By setting minimum expectations and slowly raising them, they’ll come to realize that it’s easier to just use the new tool.

The Drama King or Queen

Organizations run into big problems when they don’t plan for the worst. Having someone on your team who can foresee all possible outcomes and help you prepare for them is a huge advantage. The downside is the tendency for these individuals can sometimes overemphasize the downside and minimize the upside. Left unchecked, these Drama Kings or Queens can stoke irrational fears and prevent necessary risk-taking.

More so than anyone else on the team, this Drama Kings or Queens require a shot of confidence. Try to have an isolated conversation where you can address each of their concerns away from the group. Make them comfortable with sharing their thoughts with you directly. Institute regular check-ins to ensure they’re feeling okay with the changes and address anything they point out as quickly as possible.

The “I” in Team  

Some people can go against the grain and forge their own path, unencumbered by the expectations or opinions of others. They move forward with ideas and will them into reality. In many cases, what some might call stubbornness is an admirable quality. But in many team scenarios, it’s a liability. These “I” in Team folks can be some of the most difficult to get in sync with the rest of your team. They can be quite vocal about their opinions and a thorn in the side to anyone with whom they don’t see eye-to-eye.

The “I” in Team’s actions might seem like he or she doesn’t care about the thoughts or feelings of others. But deep down they do. Use peer pressure to get them to see that the entire team has committed, and they alone are the holdout. It’s important not to enable their behavior.  Once the “I” in Team sees that the resolve of the team is stronger than theirs, they may soften and agree to participate. If this happens, be sure to reward them.

The Know-it-all

The minds of some people are like sponges, able to retain and access all kinds of information at will. These Know-it-alls can alert you if the team’s going down the wrong path and bring valuable context to problems that others miss. Their confidence may display what appears to be a complete understanding of a problem, but keep in mind it could be based on old evidence. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to identify a Know-it-all from a Knew-it-all.

First and foremost, the Know-it-all needs to understand that they really don’t know it all. There’s a reason why they’re part of a team and not a lone wolf. Educate them about how their actions have consequences and affect the group’s workflow. Establish early on that decisions are made as a group. They should continue chiming in with their insights, thoughts, and perspectives, but ultimately, they must get comfortable with others making the final call.

Any new practice, system, or tool is an unknown and can cause feelings of insecurity for many people. The solution is to provide as much confidence to your team as possible. Identifying each of the different personality types and applying specific management techniques for each will help make the transition much smoother. Projects will be completed faster, individual productivity will increase, time and resources will be saved, a trust will be built, and confidence will be earned. Change is inevitable, but with the right techniques, you’ll be able to successfully manage it in your organization and help everyone work with confidence.

Megan Barbier 

VP of Human Resources, Wrike

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