Helping Old and New Work Together (4 min read)
Your organisation has grown from a nimble owner-run yacht to a powerful cargo-ship behemoth managed by a consortium. How do you maintain your course, profitability and manoeuvrability while running the engine on full power and keeping everyone on board?
Some of your crew are Old Hands – they were there pulling the ropes to safely sail through the storms of the early days. They knew every crook and cranny of the old yacht, navigating with a sextant through the darkest nights and predicting the incoming weather from observing the clouds on the horizon. On the new ship, those Old Hands are lost – so many unknown passages, the complex computer driving the engine, the autopilot keeping course using satellites, even the weather predictions are provided by algorithms. What use is their knowledge of seamanship, the seas and the sextant? The Old Hands feel redundant and insecure in their positions.
To help run the complex ship you have taken on New Crew – they have never pulled a rope in their life, but can programme the complex computer, switch on the autopilot and interpret the weather data. They do not bother to look outside the window to check whether the weather algorithm is correct. When the Old Hands tell the New Crew of the best way to ride out the ocean swells they do not listen, and instead fire more fuel into the engine to power head on through the conditions. The New Crew think that the Old Hands are redundant.
You know that to make progress the ship needs both the Old Hands and the New Crew. So how do you get them working harmoniously together – as one team?
First you identify the next destination for the ship, with clear intermediary ports along the way. You share this plan with all your crew, ask for their input and listen to their suggestions, until everyone understands the way forward. You know that not everyone will agree with you, but you do not leave the dissidents out of the discussions, because you know that this can create unhelpful fractions in the team.
You create teams that include both the Old Hands and the New Crew, helping them to understand each other’s strengths, ways of thinking and communicating – so that they can work better together. You explain to the Old Hands that the complex computer will make your ship more efficient and profitable, especially as the New Crew know how to get the best out of it; and you explain to the New Crew that some reefs are unchartered in the sophisticated navigation software, so the knowledge of the Old Hands is crucial to your safe progress.
Right from the start you aim to create an inclusive work culture where everyone is valued, information is shared and each crew is clear about their roles and responsibilities. You minimise role and boundary disputes. You encourage crew to be flexible and proactive. Fixed mindsets lose out in constantly changing economic and business climate.
Everyone in your team is encouraged and expected to keep up their training and continuously develop their knowledge. You know that even the New Crew will fall behind industry changes if they stand still. The success and progress of your ship is directly linked to the knowledge, experience and talents of your crew. You ensure that the training is always relevant and does not leave anyone out. You want your crew to see training as a reward not a chore, so you regularly combine theory with practice in rewarding team-building days.
You encourage clear and timely communications. That way any issues are brought to the surface and dealt with quickly. There is transparency and fairness in feedback and appraisals. You know that a well-placed “Thank You” goes a long way in building relationships and loyalty. When conflicts arise between crew, you mediate or find an independent party to help out, to ensure that each side feels heard and has a chance to understand the other point of view. You try not to take sides.
You lead by example and adapt your leadership style to changing circumstances. You act with fairness and integrity towards all your crew, even the ones you do not personally get on with.
Sometimes, despite all your efforts a valued crew finds it difficult to be part of your diverse team. You know when to let go and wish them well on their way.
As an executive and business coach, I regularly see tensions between the old and the new in organisations. Very few industry sectors seem immune from these pressures. For example, in manufacturing, adoption of new technology tends to cause upheavals. In retail, it is online marketing and sales. In any sector, transformation in management structure or business expansion or simply the unrelenting pace of industry change can lead to fractures in the team.
> What are your strategies for managing the tensions between the old and the new in your organisation?
> What is causing the rift – technology innovation, change of management structure, new marketing techniques?
> What advice would you give other organisations in this position?
For information on change coaching or team building please contact Natalia for a free consultation.
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