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Everyone Wins When You Address Personality Dynamics During Times of Change

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There is nothing like a sudden change of executive leadership to trigger all kinds of personality dynamics in a team.  While it’s very natural for people to react to sudden change, many of the dynamics create a seismic distraction and unproductive interactions.


If a Big Change is coming: Minimize Threat, Maximize reward

I recently had the pleasant experience of watching a leader do a great job leading his team through an unforeseen announcement that the CEO of the company was leaving. 

Unfortunately, there was not a comprehensive communication strategy announcing the leadership change and most of the employees learned about it from a Google alert vs. directly from a figurehead of the holding company.  Naturally, in the absence of detailed information, employees went into self-protection mode as their brains kicked into gear to help them mitigate the risk of uncertainty about their future. 

According to findings from social neuroscience research, we know that much of the motivation driving social behavior is governed by an overarching, organizing principle of minimizing threat and maximizing reward.  The leadership change was perceived by many members on the team as a potential threat to their way of operating which the brain interpreted as a risk to their survival.  This translated to people on the team playing out dynamics such as posturing , complaining, worrying, and verbally criticizing the new CEO and their resistance to the change.  

I have had the benefit to work with this leader and his team for several years and we were scheduled for a team planning session the day after the CEO change announcement.  Coincidentally, we were already planning to talk about how to deal with personality dynamics during times of change as there were other organizational changes already in the works.  When those changes were announced a few months past, the team had a transition planning meeting. They found that personality dynamics were abundant and interfered with their productivity and morale.  The meeting I was asked to facilitate was designed to help the team reflect on their personality patterns that could contribute to positive momentum and optimal performance.

What We Learned:

Build Awareness of Personality Dynamics As a Best Practice Before a Big Change Happens

I  equipped the team with knowledge of their personality motivations using a team personality assessment based on the Enneagram personality system.  This accelerated the team’s ability to deal with the most disruptive personality dynamics that emerged in a productive way.  For example, the team recognized their collective personality was predominantly action-centered.  We discussed ways to leverage the awareness of the threats they were attuned to by developing specific strategies to mitigate them.  They also recognized their tendency to collectively neglect attending to the emotional aspects of change.  This allowed them to be more patient with spending time on discussing ways to help understand each other’s reaction to the changes and address the concerns that emerged.

Don’t Underestimate The Difficulty of Self Regulation Under Pressure.

This team is one of the most self-aware groups I have worked with.  They are familiar with their personality driven mindsets.  They have examined their individual and collective modes of operating to learn what makes them tick.  Yet, they were still likely to sub-optimize the change efforts.  Their unproductive change planning meeting showed them that they had to go deeper with their understanding of their personality profiles and how to deal with that awareness in real time – when the stakes were highest and the ability to drive results was the best.  Most would agree that it would be best to prevent an angry outburst rooted in frustration or fear from happening compared to having to clean it up afterwards.

How We Tackled Personality Dynamics

Three immediate actions:

  • We worked on developing greater capacity to work with their emotional awareness and the insight those emotions could offer them about the needs they were in need of meeting. They recognized they had needs that were not being addressed in a conscious way which gave them greater clarity about how to get the needs in a more productive way.
  • They challenged their beliefs that were often based on memories of the past or fears about something that could happen in the future and how that shaped their automatic patterns of behavior. Stories surfaced about why the new CEO can’t be trusted based on the past.  Another story was challenged that because this team that has an Enneagram 8, hard charging leadership style won’t  be appreciated for it’s abilities by leaders who are Enneagram, competitive  3 styles. 
  • This analysis freed them up to create a variety of strategies not to over react in the heat of the moment when emotional triggers are the most likely to take over and they would regret later.

In this article about change leadership which I highly recommend, McKinsey research:

“indicates that if companies can identify and address pervasive mind-sets at the outset, they are four times more likely to succeed in organizational-change efforts than are companies that overlook this stage.” 

Time will tell, but my bet is on this team succeeding really well through all of the changes they are facing because of the courageous and open way they are willing to address personality dynamics head on and over time.


How do you deal with Personality Dynamics on your team? Tell us below!

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