A Smooth Sea Never Made a Skilful Sailor

Committing the Change Team


Colors in Projects

Colors in Projects

In Managing Change in Organizations: A Practice Guide (Project Management Institute, 2013), change management is presented as an essential organizational capability that cascades across and throughout portfolio, program, and project management. The successes of programs and projects are seen as being closely related to the successful implementation of the change it produces, and the contribution of the change team is essential. This paper's effort is directed towards identifying the change team and the tools and techniques that can raise the commitment of its members.

Keywords: change, change team, team dynamics


In order to properly identify the change team and the tools and techniques that can raise the commitment of its members, this paper addresses three major questions:

  • Who is the change team and what are the roles and responsibilities within this team?
  • What are the models that explain the dynamics of the change team?
  • Which tools and techniques can we use to gain and increase the commitment of the change team?


Crawford and Nahmias (2010) list the competencies required to manage change based on their synthesis of findings from the literature and case studies. Among those competencies are leadership, stakeholder management, communication, decision making, problem-solving, and cultural awareness. We can conclude that when building a change team, organizations first need to consider the interpersonal abilities of the team member and, if they are in place, to then consider the required technical abilities that should be added. How we prepare our team for these roles is another tough question.

More specifically, what do we mean by the term change team? There is no agreement in the existing literature regarding a specific composition of the change team, and this is most probably because of the diversity of changes implemented throughout various organizations. Nevertheless, if we draw an analogy between the project team and the change team, we can easily develop a definition of the change team. Project teams are teams that are formed for the specific purpose of completing a project; therefore, change teams are teams that are formed for the specific purpose of implementing a change. The change team will bring together individuals with different competencies, experience, knowledge, and relationship capital, fulfilling specific roles (as described in the following section), working transparently, and involving as many stakeholders as possible in their quest towards implementing the change.

When building a change team, several roles need to be considered. PMI's Managing Change in Organizations: A Practice Guide talks about developing “change-ready” employees within organizations (PMI, 2013, p.10). These are the employees who are able to assume the roles required in a change team. In this guide, PMI lists six major roles and describes the major responsibilities of each (PMI, 2013, pp.11–12):

  • Governance Board: Ensures that the change process remains aligned with the organization's vision and direction

  • Sponsor: Has the ultimate responsibility for the program or project and direct accountability for the change
  • Leads: Supports the overall change management process and its implementation
  • Integrators: Carry the responsibility for the preparation and integration of the change into the business
  • Agents: Represent the resources for integrating the change in their respective environments
  • Recipients: Consist of people directly and indirectly impacted by the change.


Teams are influenced by their members’ behaviors, personality, and by the relationships within its members, just to name a few. Their results on the team's behavior and performance are what we call team dynamics. “They are like undercurrents in the sea, which can carry boats in a different direction to the one they intend to sail” (Myers, 2013). Effects of team dynamics are considered by project and program teams as facilitators in order to increase the rate of success for their projects and programs. While implementation of change occurs through programs and projects, and sometimes with a high level of complexity, the topic is of utmost importance when talking about the change team. The over-discussed and debated aim of gaining the commitment of the team can be achieved when team dynamics are correctly understood and managed.

The effect of team dynamics can be beneficial, as it can improve the overall team performance. However, team dynamics can also be destructive when not managed correctly, causing demotivating, conflictual situations. If the dynamics of a change team can be improved, so can its performance. The stronger the team is, the better the accomplishment of the expected change. This is why it is crucial to understand team dynamics. And this is why all change team leaders should continuously enable the evolution of the change teams.

There are many authors who focused on explaining team dynamics, we can list among those Kurt Lewin (being part of a group), Will Schutz (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation Theory), and Meredith Belbin (roles within a team). Probably one of the most spread theories about group dynamics is Bruce Tuckman's Stages of Small-Group Development Theory. Firstly developed in 1965, the theory explains that there are four inevitable phases for a group to experience in order to grow and deliver results: forming, storming, norming, and performing. In the forming stage, people get to know each other and tend to work independently. Once they start collaborating, differences of opinions arise and each member starts to impose his point of view, thus entering in the storming phase. In the norming stage, a set of rules are established in order for the group to work and, once the rules are accepted and followed by all members, the group reaches the performing stage. This means that the group is now motivated and autonomous and can make decisions on its own. Considering the temporary nature of teams, in the later revision of the theory, Tuckman and Jensen (1977) have added a fifth stage—adjourning—in which the team completes the final tasks and then dissolves.

Relevance for the Change Team: During a change program or project, special attention has to be paid to the change team development stages. The storming and norming phases could be used in order to release the possible tensions within the team. The change manager will build the framework that allows team members to share and discuss the blocking situations or the frustrating obstacles (whether these are feelings, attitudes, or behaviors) and to agree on the ground rules governing their collaboration.


In order to raise the commitment of the team through improving team dynamics, there are several steps to follow (very similar to the steps we follow in most of our continuous improvement initiatives):

Step 1: Understanding. We start with the diagnosis of the team:

  • Identify what is the best type of interaction to be applied (the intervention methods)—the most appropriate in the specific context or the one that could bring value for the particular case
  • Investigate the primary factors that could cause problems or decrease team performance (e.g., using a team health check interview or questionnaire)

Step 2: Defining the action plan. We continue with developing an action plan (with the identified intervention methods). Some of the possible strategies are:

  • Introduce new processes, tools, or technologies (e.g., the Belbin questionnaires in order to understand the preferred roles of each change team member, new technologies for facilitating communication, etc.)
  • Organize specific workshops for the change team members to
    • Raise awareness of interpersonal dynamics, motivational value systems, and conflict management
    • Improve individual, collective, and organizational learning (apply intervention methods such as feedback and reflection)
    • Explain reactions to change, with the objective of minimizing the fear and resistance to change
  • Organize cultural change programs to introduce new attitudes and behaviors
  • Organize specific workshops with stakeholders with the objective of better understanding the different perspectives (e.g., discuss the change project scorecard)
  • Adapt the organizational structure, change the existing infrastructure, and change reporting structures within organizations

Step 3: Implementing the action plan. Implement the plan.

Step 4. Check the results. Continuously check the results, understand the causes, and adapt the action plan accordingly.


In early 1990, Drs. Robert Kaplan (Harvard Business School) and David Norton were researching for a more balanced view of organizational performance. They added strategic, nonfinancial performance measures to the traditional financial metrics, asking companies to recognize the importance of the intangible assets as well. Today, this holistic approach is considered as being successful in project management as well. Change projects—due their increased complexity—would greatly benefit from such a tool. The idea is to measure the project performance not only from the triple constraint point of view, but to introduce other aspects such as customer satisfaction, team motivation, the relationship with stakeholders, and so on.

This tool has the advantages of the known balanced scorecard (e.g., increased focus on results, focus on drivers of future performance) and it significantly improves the communication among team members and stakeholders, as demanded by team dynamics theories.

Developing such a scorecard with the contribution of the entire team plus invited stakeholders during a joint meeting helps significantly in gaining the buy-in of the stakeholders, aligning expectations, and keeping the team engaged (Bonghez, 2015, p. 15).

A Change Project Scorecard is represented below. It is a real-life example taken from a project that concluded in 2014. Although it took more than two hours to go through the indicators each time the team met (the frequency was once every six weeks), the results were encouraging. The team took every project evaluation meeting very seriously and thoroughly discussed the indicators each time. Debates started for the score of almost every indicator and if its value was higher than two, the entire team was involved in searching for ways to improve it. Exhibit 1 shows the project scorecard at the end of the project after six iterations. Increased self-confidence, better understanding of the big picture (before and after the project), awareness about project risks and ways to mitigate them, and greater buy-in were only a few of the outcomes from the consistent use of the tool during the project.


Exhibit 1: Change project scorecard example.



Simona Bonghez, PhD, owner of Colors in Projects, has over 20 years’ experience in Management and Project Management. An author and speaker at project management conferences, she is leading the delivery of consulting services and training programs both in Romania and worldwide. Even though professional experience is a defining aspect in her activity, she thinks that she would not have come this far without a good sense of humour.


Adina Grigoroiu, PMP, is a trainer and consultant for Colors in Projects, providing support in the planning, coordination, and control of the projects for Romanian and international customers. She considers herself a constant student at the “Faculty of Life” and truly believes that everything can be overcome with a positive attitude.


img  Simona Bonghez Adina Grigoroiu         | img         @simonabonghez @adinagrigoroiu         | img Simona Bonghez
img Simona Bonghez Adina Grigoroiu

Belbin® North America. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.belbin.com/rte.asp?id=8

Bonghez, S. (2015). Building positive project culture for navigating complexity: A case study. Retrieved from http://www.pmi.org/~/media/PDF/learning/project-complexity/building-project-culture.ashx on 10.02.2016

Crawford, L. & Nahmias, A. H. (2010). Competencies for managing change. International Journal of Project Management, 28(4), 405–412.

Myers, S. P. (2013). Definition of team dynamics. Retrieved from http://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/team/dynamics/definition/ on 10.02.2016

Project Management Institute. (2013). Managing change in organizations: A practice guide. Newtown Square, PA: Author.

Schutz, W. C. (1958). FIRO: A three-dimensional theory of interpersonal behavior. Oxford, England: Rinehart.

Tuckman, B. W., & Jensen, M. A. C. (1977). Stages of small-group revisited. Group and Organization Studies, 2 (4), 419–427.

© 2016, Simona Bonghez, Adina Grigoroiu
Originally published as part of the 2016 PMI® Global Congress Proceedings – Barcelona, Spain