Embracing change in your workplace

The biggest challenges you face in a workplace are often not in how to build the product, but in how to build a healthy work environment.

Diana Mounter
Jan 15, 2015 · 4 min read

After working in a range of organizations — from government, to agencies, to startups, big and small — I’ve found one of the most important indicators to a healthy work environment is an organization’s openness to change. The following are the principles I’ve found key to building a change-embracing workplace.

Be open to change your process

When you build a new team or begin a new project, your assumptions for how best to work together at the start might not be spot on. As your company grows or explores new areas, your process and assumptions are even more likely to change. Give yourself and your team regular opportunities—such as retrospectives—to give feedback and help improve the way you work together.

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Many teams use retrospectives to discuss plus points and things they might want to change in their process.

Share your changes

If you’re working on a project that affects another team or another part of the product, keep people informed and offer opportunities to collaborate. You’ll get along better with your coworkers, have less unexpected surprises, and likely come to a better result with the input of others.

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“Show and Tell” is one of the ways our team shares work and gets feedback.

Change together

If it’s not possible to mix up where people sit, find other opportunities for getting to know your team — these could be a co-working time away from your usual work area, or grabbing regular lunches together.

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Designers, engineers, and product managers sit together, usually with others who are working on the same part of the product.

Wherever you sit, find opportunities to learn about each others’ roles. Invite coworkers of mixed disciplines to activities like brainstorms and sketch sessions. Moments of cross-collaboration will help you understand their perspective.

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Team members from across the organization map user journeys together.

Encourage people to make change

If employees feel afraid to make change they will be more likely to stay with the “safe path”, may be less honest about a project’s progress through fear of being reprimanded, and might be less inclined to ask for help when they need it. Behavior like this will slow innovation in a company.

Build a culture where people feel empowered to do their best. That doesn’t mean everyone should be reckless. It’s about people feeling trusted to find the right path and being able to have an honest discussion if something isn’t working out.

People should feel free to be great and free to make change.

Handle disruptive change with care

  • Be empathetic. Consider how people might feel and how they will be impacted. Invite them to discuss their concerns, and try to alleviate potential worries where possible.
  • Be as transparent as you can. Big changes rarely stay secret. Gossip and misunderstandings can cause a lot of damage. Even if every detail isn’t clear, talk to your coworkers as early as possible. It’s better for people to hear the truth about what’s happening rather than speculations, and your coworkers will appreciate being kept in the loop.
  • Follow up with people. Often it takes a while for feelings to sink in, and the impact of changes to take effect. After the initial discussions be sure to follow up with coworkers.

It may take time and effort to maintain this level of communication with your team, but it pays off in the long run. Openness and transparency will help build trust between you and your coworkers and help build their confidence in the company.

Whatever your role, you can contribute to the happiness and welfare of your coworkers. Embracing change in the workplace isn’t just up to managers, it’s up to everyone on the team.

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