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Navigating Resistance to Change

Mina Slater Tandem Alum

As a technology consultant, joining a new client team can be intimidating. More often than not, our initial expectations of the project’s goals, culture, and challenges will not be reality. And occasionally, joining a client’s team means facing people who are suspicious of an external consultant’s motives, set in their ways, or reluctant to change how they already do things. It can be difficult when we’ve been hired to transform a process, but the team isn’t yet open to change.

Through experience, I’ve learned not to be intimidated by this challenge: with the right approach, I can earn the team’s trust and overcome their resistance to change.

Be Flexible

It’s easy to walk into a new software consulting project with a mental picture of how we’re going to implement change — but once we are onboarded and doing the work, it can become apparent that our original plan needs revising. When joining a team where Tandem consultants are met with resistance, we stay flexible with our long-term goals and the strategies used to achieve them.

For example, when I first joined a new client’s team, I asked if anyone wanted to pair on the code. A team member informed me that it’s not something they do, which took me by surprise because pairing is a customary practice at Tandem. However, we appreciated the honest communication and respected that it wasn’t a conventional way of working for the client team. Instead, Tandem adapted to the team member’s response and came up with other ways to facilitate developer collaboration. Staying flexible means that disagreements over process don’t result in a standoff, and demonstrating that flexibility helps us earn your team’s trust.

Keep Your Strategy Iterative

I once joined a team with substantial, high-level tickets that had to get done. Each developer picked one up and worked on it alone, creating a situation where there wasn’t enough work to go around and nobody was on the same page. We wanted to get the team in a rhythm of meeting to break down the tickets into subtasks to have clear documentation and a team-wide understanding of every task, but the team members felt differently.

It can be tough when Tandem proposes a big process change, but we’re met with resistance. Rather than waste time getting frustrated, we kept the strategy iterative by pivoting.

In this situation, the client team wanted to work on everything individually — so we leaned into that. Instead of continuing to be met with contention about getting everybody to meet, we shifted our strategy to focus on getting the developers on board with breaking down the tickets into subtasks. If we could get the team used to breaking down high-level tickets, there would be enough work to go around and everyone would be more in sync — even if we weren’t collaborating in ways Tandem imagined when joining the team.

Having an iterative strategy means rising to the challenge and not being afraid to try new ways of putting ideas into practice. Sometimes, the result of that first small change is so encouraging that the team is enthusiastically on board for future iterations!

Celebrate the Baby Steps

Addressing resistance to change can be a challenge. But in your team members’ shoes, being asked to make a change can be just as challenging! We’ve been in these situations many times, and we’ve learned that it’s important to recognize all steps toward progress, even if there is a lot more work ahead. Every baby step forward is a little closer to our goal — and that’s something to acknowledge, appreciate, and celebrate!

Only looking at the end goal (especially with rigidity!) is a sure way to have a whole team of frustrated people. Learning to reframe my feelings towards the progress of the project helped shape my leadership style for the better.

Approach Change With Empathy

When we join a new client’s team, the most important thing we do is approach all of our interactions with empathy. At Tandem, we are conscious of how nerve-wracking it can be to have a group of strangers come in and start transforming things that have stayed the same for a long time.

As consultants, we want to provide continual value, which we can’t do without recognizing where the resistance to change is coming from. Taking time to understand your team members’ concerns and listen to them is much more valuable for everyone involved than just attempting to persuade. Listening is a crucial part of change management: building empathy and trust with each team member always results in a better plan with maintainable results.

Approaching change with empathy helps our Tandem team too. We learn a lot from our clients and apply those learnings to help us continually improve as consultants.

Tech team process and culture changes don’t have to be scary. Let’s chat about how we can workshop with your team and help you meet your goals.


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