How to Coach Your Team Through 5 Stages of Grief

Based on the Kübler-Ross Change Curve

Aug 22, 2016 · 6 min read

We often resist the things that are the best for us — waking up early, vegetables, exercise, meditation, calling our mothers — but why is building better habits so overwhelmingly difficult? One word — CHANGE.

It can be our greatest ally, the catalyst for growth and acceleration of realizing our higher selves. Many philosophies outline the Law of Impermanence and urge us to surrender to, and make peace with this number one certainty in life. Our refusal to change is futile, so why the resistance?

The answers may lie in a psychological model called The Kübler-Ross Change Curve, also known as the 5 Stages of Grief. It was proposed by Swiss-American psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in her 1969 book called Death and Dying. It outlines the stages of emotions experienced by a person in relation to loss. This concept has since been extended and applied to any situation relating to change, as it is usually equated with some loss, however minor. Here are the reactions outlined in the model from resistance to acceptance:

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The Importance of the Kubler-Ross Change Curve in Business

In our experience introducing businesses to our project management software, Taskworld, we have seen this first-hand. Despite the benefits of using a team management software, many teams still cling to spreadsheets and email. The resistance to change, not data-driven decision making, dictates the choice to hold on to archaic and inefficient project management practices.

These disruptions in the flow can carry on for months and create counterproductive problems, but armed with the right knowledge, managers can see the challenges before they arise and guide the process along the path of least resistance.

The easier it is for the employees to move along on their journey, the easier will it be for the organization to move towards success.

The Change Curve is a powerful model to understand the stages of personal and organizational transitions. It can help managers predict how their teams will react to change within the company, so they can make sure their colleagues have the help and support they need. Coaching with the right style can assure that the transition from resistance to acceptance is smooth, and the teams and company can reap the true benefits of a change in systems or processes.

Coaching and The Change Curve AKA How to Avoid Mutiny

Here are the five stages of The Change Curve and how to coach your team through to success:

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STAGE 1: Denial

Coaching advice: During this phase, a manager should help employees understand why the change is being made and what’s in it for them. Focusing on face-to-face communication and simply listening to your colleagues concerns will help ease the process. Don’t overwhelm them with information, but rather release it gradually, and consider that one on one discussions, rather than a meeting, could be a better way to break the news and avoid group think.

STAGE 2: Anger

Coaching advice: For the organization, this stage is the “danger zone.” If this stage is badly managed, the organization may descend into crisis or chaos. This stage needs careful planning and preparation. As someone responsible for change, you should prepare for this stage by carefully considering the impacts and objections that people may have. Listen and watch carefully during this stage so you can respond to the unexpected. Also understand that this is just a natural reaction and with time, it shall pass away and make way for acceptance.

STAGE 3: Bargaining

Coaching advice: Be open to suggestions as this may bring some relief to those who are moving closer to acceptance. However, they may still resist by trying to learn only what they think is important, so make sure as an employer or part of management, you set clear timelines and expectations. Hold workshops and trainings to ensure the change incorporated can run successfully. Productivity cannot be expected to be 100 percent during this phase but allowing extra time in this stage can pay off later.

STAGE 4: Depression

Coaching advice: It is important for management to understand that this phase is not easy for the team. The more exciting the training can be made, the better would it be for employees to move ahead and give their best. Here, apply positive feedback in the learning process and motivate the team with rewards.

STAGE 5: Acceptance

Coaching advice: Managers will finally begin to see the benefits of the hard work put in so far. The team is showing improvements now, and the overall productivity begins to improve. Here, repeat and reinforce objectives and strategy and make sure to share successes with the team. It is now time to celebrate and move towards a brighter future.

About the author

Jessica Zartler is a digital nomad and Multimedia Marketing Consultant & Content Strategist for Taskworld. Before working in Public Relations and Marketing, she was an award-winning television reporter and multimedia journalist for eight years in Florida and Colorado. When she is not hunting for the best content on the web to share with TW users, blogging or producing videos, she is teaching yoga, cooking, playing drums and travelling.

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