Getting a change initiative back on course


By Melanie Franklin

It’s my job to fix things when they go wrong and I was recently asked to help a team working as part of a large organisational change programme.

The problem was the team had missed several deadlines. When I started work with them I found that they were all working incredibly hard, so there wasn’t any spare capacity. They were also all very supportive of the change so there was no lack of motivation.

The problem was that they were led by someone who kept forgetting the bigger picture. So the team were working hard on different tasks but only some of them were valuable. Other work was’ nice to have’ but would have been better saved until after the key milestones had been met and fitted in then if there was any time left.

How did these problems occur? It’s because the team leader is behaving exactly how we want 21st century team leaders behaving – applying intrinsic motivation. This theory, summarised by Dan Pink in his useful book ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’1, says that the highest levels of motivation come from 3 factors:

  • Purpose – a sense of meaningful and value about the task we are doing
  • Autonomy – a chance to decide for ourselves what we do and how we do it
  • Mastery – using our skills because what we are naturally good at is easiest for us to do

So the leader had devolved responsibility to the team to plan how they achieved their objectives but with one missing ingredient – a lack of clarity over what exactly needed to be done. If there isn’t a common understanding of the objective and the wider context of how this fits into the programme as a whole, some work will be off at a tangent, not directly related to what needs doing. This is exactly what has happened.

Of course it’s not easy to stop people doing a task that they really want to do. They think it’s important (Purpose), it is something they are good at (Mastery) and their leader has given them the OK to get on with whatever they think needs doing (Autonomy).

To fix this, it’s important to get everyone back in touch with the bigger picture. This is not a time for blame or criticism of what they have done already. Instead ask each of the team members to explain what they are currently working on and how this contributes to the wider goal. A good format is:

  • I am creating/developing/delivering X so that …… Where the “so that” connects to the main objective.
  • Ask people to self-rate their work for the amount of value it contributes to the main objective. A scale of 1-5 works well, with 1 meaning very little contribution and 5 meaning complete alignment to the objectives of the programme as a whole (the wider context)

This builds the habit of considering the purpose and value of the work before people get started. It reduces effort on unnecessary tasks but still preserves autonomy and mastery because individuals know to pick work that does have the ‘right’ purpose.

I hope this helps to address a common issue in highly motivated, self-directed teams but please get in touch with your own suggestions.


  1. Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, on Amazon


Agile Change Managememt Ltd.


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