Motivating for Change

As the leader of your team (whether you are a program director of a non-profit, practice group leader or founding partner of a law firm or other organizational leader), one of your most important roles is to assess the functioning of your team. Team dysfunction has direct impact on your ability to meet your clients’ needs and, therefore, meet your firm’s goals. Assessing the dysfunction and prioritizing it for yourself won’t get you very far unless your team (especially the troublesome members) also identify it as a priority for themselves. There must be by-in across the team.

External pressure to prioritize finding a solution can be effective in the short term, but internal motivation to change is lasting. The question becomes, “how can I lead my team toward the desire for lasting change?” Using Motivational Interviewing (MI) techniques, which are based on five principles, takes training and practice. It was first established as a technique in working with clients who were resistant to addressing their addictions. It now has more broad applications in the business world or anywhere there is a need for systemic change.

5 Steps to Motivate for Change

  1. Engage in reflective listening. What are your team’s current priorities, needs and beliefs about their functioning? Reflective listening requires nonjudgmental stance and a reflection back of what you have heard. People need to be heard and understood before there is movement toward change.
  2. Develop discrepancy between the team or team member’s goals and their current behavior. This takes tact, delicacy and often training from a professional to learn this technique of addressing incongruence. Motivation for change is enhanced when clients can identify discrepancies on their own between their current situation and their goals for the future. You are there to guide them in that process, not demand it of them.
  3. Avoid argument and direct confrontation. This can be a challenge, particularly when you are professionally invested in the success of the team. However, it is vital to remember that arguments are counterproductive and defending breeds defensiveness.
  4. Roll with Resistance. Most arguments, at their base, are about resistance to the change. Understand that resistance to change is simply a signal to change strategies. This is what therapists call “rolling with resistance.” Resistance can actually provide you an opportunity to understand the problem in a new or deeper way and allow you to take advantage of the situation in a non-confrontational way.
  5. Support self-efficacy and optimism. It is hard to remain optimistic during a time of dysfunction; this is all the more true if that dysfunction has created a crisis that you are simultaneously trying to manage. As a leader, you must understand that it is each member of the team’s responsibility to choose and then carry out that change. It is your role to help motive them towards change and respond accordingly to their change or, conversely, their non-compliance.

Change, particularly systemic change, takes effort and time. Deep change not only addresses a change in behavior, but a change in culture. What you put into that investment is what you will get out of it.

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