Disciplined Agile

Setting up a Transition Monitoring Team

No matter how carefully you prepare for a transition, you are going to be handicapped by the fact that there is no way to foresee all of the effects of the change or all of the reactions to it. That’s why a Transition Monitoring Team (TMT) is so useful. The size of the team should be no more than a dozen or so and it may be better to set up several teams for different parts of the organization than to put too many people on one team (or stretch members too thin).

There are several ways to set up a team, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Where there are many groups to be represented, it may be most useful to appoint people to the team so that you get the best possible coverage of levels, ethnic groupings, shifts, old- and new-timers, and so on. The drawback, of course, is that the handpicked team may be seen as management stooges. So the selections need to include a few people who are clearly not management favorite5–‘-perhaps one or two who are known to be management critics. (This has the side effect of educating those people about the realities of the change.)

Where the pool of workers is not very large and it is more important to get people who are interested in the project than it is to get a carefully crafted cross-section, you can explain the task and ask for volunteers. You can also combine the two methods by having management choose from a pool of volunteers or by having different groups nominate candidates for the team, with management making final selections.

However the team is chosen, it has to be educated. Part of the education is about transition, because this is not a general feedback channel but a way to find out the effects that transition is having on people. Are any groups getting forgotten in the rush toward the future? Is the communication getting through-and is it being believed? Are any groups having particular trouble letting go of the old way of doing things? Are there any policies, practices, or structures that are impeding transition? What information, skills, or assistance do people need?

The team must also be educated about its area of responsibility, which is to operate as a monitoring team, not a management team. They may otherwise believe that they have been selected to lead the change project. The group should remain clear that its purpose is feedback.

The team should meet as long as there are transition issues to keep track of, although if that time extends beyond a year or so, it is probably a good idea to phase in new people gradually to replace the original members. (Phasing in new people also has the advantage of getting more people involved in and knowledgeable about the monitoring process.) The team must meet regularly and frequently enough to be able to deal with issues while they are still fresh. Many teams find that meeting every two weeks is about right, but sometimes events call for more frequent meetings. As the change winds down, the meetings can be held less frequently.

The meetings themselves need to be scheduled and run by a facilitator, and it is often useful to make that person a nonparticipant. Perhaps an HR person can take on the responsibility of sending out e-mails to remind people of upcoming meetings, running the meetings, and carrying the results of the meetings back to decision-makers. It is advantageous if the facilitator happens to occupy an organizational role that gives her or him ready access to decision-makers, because the output of the meetings is information that these people ought to know.

Initially, people may be suspicious of TMT members, wondering if they are management spies. That suspicion is itself a sign (though not an uncommon one) of mistrust within the organization, and mistrust is a situation that the decision-makers need to address before it damages their undertaking. Often the mistrust dies out as soon as people start to discover that their worries and difficulties are being recognized by the TMT and better yet, that they are being answered and remedied as a result of being brought up in TMT meetings. Some TMTs function very well by taking a passive role, simply reporting what people come to them and say, while other TMTs take a more active role, sending members around to interview people as part of their ear-to-the-ground effort.

It is generally wise to limit the focus of the TMT discussions to matters that have grown directly out of the changes going on in the organization and the transitions that people are in because of them. Inevitably, the group finds itself touching on more general matters (“how bad communication is around here,” for example), and it is a good idea to find some way to channel those issues into appropriate venues for discussion and response. It is the facilitator’s role to take care of this, but if some members of the TMT are also part of other groups that address organizational problems, these issues can be passed off to them on the spot.

It is often important to feed back information on specific issues to the groups and individuals who originally brought them to the TMT’s attention. People naturally wonder what ever happened to their question or complaint or idea, and nothing kills a feedback system faster than people experiencing it as a black hole into which things are drawn and then disappear.

TMTs are extremely worthwhile, for they identify at an early stage problems that could later have serious consequences. They are one of the ways in which people can feel that they have a role (and a stake) in a change that has been planned by upper-level executives without much input from the rank and file. TMTs are also an effective way to counter rumors, because members of the team may be able to disseminate accurate information more believably than leaders can.