7 Tips for Navigating Transition in Your Team

Its guest post Monday. This post is by Chris Lautsbaugh who lives in Muizenberg, South Africa. He serves with Youth With a Mission (YWAM), teaching and training missionaries and church leaders. Together with his wife Lindsey, they lead and steward training programs and ministries in and around Cape Town, reaching out to under privileged communities, planting churches, and meeting needs associated with the issues South Africa faces. They have been in missions for 35 combined years. They serve together with their two boys, Garett and Thabo.

Chris blogs at www.nosuperheroes.com and has published a book on grace, Death of the Modern Superhero:How Grace Breaks our Rules. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Transition is an inevitable part of every team or organization. Many teams have a short life span due to an inability to switch from the pioneer to the successor. I’ve watched this scenario play out multiple times over the last 20 plus years I’ve spent in leadership.

The mark of a long-lasting organization is an ability to transition and change.

We recently underwent a leadership transition in my team. One of my department leaders was moving on. He was part of the pioneering of this particular ministry.

Here are 7 tips you can employ to navigate change:

1. Anticipate Change – Life is full of change. As a leader, you must constantly look ahead in order to anticipate the future. Successful leaders are always on the lookout for their replacement. Your first plan might not work out (ours did not), but you still benefit from forward thinking.

2. Give People Time to Adjust – A leader and his inner circle are often weeks or months ahead in the journey of embracing change. Your people need the courtesy of easing into the transition. Leaders wrestle with the idea, weighing the pros and cons. Give the group time to do the same. Sow the idea of transition in early, giving your people time to adjust, ask questions, and come to grips with the future.

3. But, Don’t Wait too Long – While giving people time to make the switch, if you wait too long it damages your future success. It takes an incredibly disciplined leader to avoid withdrawal, thereby losing the plot when they know they are moving on. A vehicle can only coast in neutral for so long before you must accelerate or turn the steering wheel.

4. Tell the right people first – Nothing is more demoralizing than hearing important information through the grapevine. If you have done a good job at bringing people along, this is natural. Unfortunately, we all know too many stories when the right people found out the wrong way.

5. Point them to the vision not the change  – This may be the most important and overlooked feature. People fear transition. It is essential to keep the vision in front of people in the midst of change. If our eyes are not looking forward, we over analysis and obsess over small details. Failure to keep the team focused on the goal can cause us to lose more than the previous leader. We may lose the whole team!

6. Honor the past – A healthy transition honors the hard work which went into where you stand today. Make sure the outgoing leaders are appropriately thanked. This values people and reinforces the current teams desire to give their whole heart to the organization. If they see you treat people well, you don’t need to worry about loyalty.

7. Don’t Blow up the Ship – Encourage the new leader to ease into his or her new vision. This is especially important if promotion has come from outside the existing group. A “get-to-know” each other period with minimal change is in order.

Considering these tips does not guarantee a pain free transition. All change is difficult, even good change.

These suggestions can greatly improve the experience for the people who matter the most…

Those who are staying!

Question: What other tips would you offer from your experiences?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Yvonne Root

    Very well thought out list, Chris.

    I’ve seen both good and bad transitions within organizations. And, I think the bad ones would have benefited from your advice.

    To me, the most important piece of advice is your first — anticipate change. It’s coming.

    • Thank you Yvonne. A lot of could be simplified if we would accept change is inevitable.

  • Bill Hybels challenged me with a statement at the Global Leadership Summit a few weeks ago. He said a great leader develops a succession plan, because if the organization can’t be great without you, then it isn’t truly great. Really got me in gear to grow Ignite beyond me just plowing away doing the work.

    • Sounds like good advice. As younger”ish” leaders it is often hard to think about succession, but it is essential

    • I was just listened to an interview he did with Noel M.Tichy about this same topic, it was a great session. It’s so important for leaders to be training other leaders and to be finding and equipping potential people to take over their position. Thank you for reading and sharing Jason.

  • There is no great way to implement and navigate change that to just do it. I mean I think about how often we plan to do things but Faith without Action is dead. Nothing will happen for you. Great points.

    • Amen about that Lincoln Parks. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  • I think telling the right people first stuck out to me as something that is so incredibly crucial – yet so often done incorrectly. Great post, Chris.

    • So true Loren. Thank you for taking time to read and share.

    • We can all tell horror stories of the right people finding out the wrong way. We could be “transitioning” more people if we do this in a wrong way – thanks!

  • Great points and I can’t wait to read your book!!!

    • You’ll be the first one to read it Dan :)! You have been a great source of insight in this journey. I’d be months away from getting an ebook out if you hadn’t shown and inspired this particular idea. You are so awesome and kind! Blessed to be connected.

      • Great! I’m looking forward to promoting it on my site and social media networks. I’m glad to help and serve you.