Change: Building a Leadership Coalition

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Today’s topic is how to build a leadership coalition in change management. We’ve been moving along John Kotter’s eight stages of change for quite some time now.

Here is another reminder of what Kotter’s eight stages are, in case you don’t have that knowledge at hand:

  • First: create a sense of urgency
  • Second: build a leadership coalition
  • Third: develop a vision of change
  • Fourth: communicate the vision of change
  • Fifth: remove obstacles
  • Sixth: set short-term goals
  • Seventh: consolidate successes and derive further change
  • And last but not least: anchor the change in the corporate culture

You need to build a leadership coalition.

What might that mean? I’ll make it simple: You need to turn your leadership team into a high-performing team. Many books have been written about that alone.

In the last chapter, we discussed the need to create a sense of urgency, how you can charge that positively and negatively, and the advantages and disadvantages of doing so. 

But how do you build a high-performing team? 

Let’s talk about that. Is there something that makes a team stand out? What qualities do your leaders actually need to bring to the table if they want to successfully shape and implement the change management process with you? 

What does the team need to be able to do? 

First: Your people need a unified goal.

You need them to be committed to the goal. They all need to develop a personal passion for a common goal. That’s what binds them together and gives them direction. You have to be able to do that. So, if you just briefly review the eight steps according to John Kotter, there are already elements in there that you can draw on for your leadership team.

This must be clear before you implement changes with the entire company or your entire division. 

Second, the success and the will to succeed must always be sustainable.

And this is also found in the model at the very end of Stage 7 and Stage 8: You really have to want to achieve high performance and above-average results with this team over a long period. 

If success is sustainable, then that welds people together. And of course—and this is also what characterizes a high-performing team—you always need joint success. The team is, as it were, the player, as they say in soccer. 

The team also feels like a unit.

There is no personal success, and I mean none at all. There are only team achievements. Absolutely, there is no place for lone wolves in a high-performing team. That is very important to know. 

What does it take?

  • You need a unified vision.
  • Cross-functional thinking is needed.
  • You need to break down silos. 

The CIO isn’t just responsible for technology, and the CMO isn’t just responsible for marketing. They need to work closely together on SEO alone if it’s an online store. 

Finance is not there to maltreat the others and watch for budget compliance but to provide them with the means to fulfill the plans. This planning is also to be developed collaboratively with colleagues.

You will find cross-functional thinking in a high-performing team.

Error culture provides security, and a sense of security is necessary for the change management process. Errors are made. There is no such thing as never making mistakes. You can’t lie to yourself, and so you know when you do it. I sometimes know what it is that I did wrong the very second I made a mistake. 

Isn’t it great that your colleagues can give you feedback? To be able, allowed, and expected to point out your mistakes so that you can learn from them? When there is no naming and blaming in the team? That is the security that is the basis for a high-performing team.

And how do you achieve this kind of error culture? 

We accomplish this through regular reflection, through a feedback culture for continuous improvement. We sit down, as in the Scrum process, and reflect. Looking back, we then look at: 

  • What went well 
  • What went badly 
  • How we can get better 
  • What we can learn from this 
  • Whether we should leave it as it is 

A high-performing team doesn’t really need a manager. It is self-organized, and everybody has their task. And, of course, the manager, who is formally the manager in terms of labor law, can certainly take on the function of the foreign minister at times. 

Ideally, the team organizes itself. And when that happens, you’ve reached a milestone in building a leadership coalition in change. 

Transparency like in Scrum? 

It’s extremely important. There’s no bullshitting, and everything is always on the table. I have a colleague with whom I’ve formed an outstanding team before. We told each other everything. That was sometimes very painful and very unpleasant. But it brought us much further because we had the necessary error culture and learned to trust each other.

And trust is the basis. 

It takes time and space. Grass doesn’t grow faster if you pull on it. You can’t build a high-performing team in a week. Everyone has to be able to develop, and you have to get involved. Once you’ve got all that down, then you have a High Performing Team. 

Steps to get there are:

Communicate a lot. Make a lot of meetings. We actually went off-site every four to six weeks with the entire management team. Always really off and not in the office. Preferably where there is no internet and no mobile reception.

One of the things we did there was team building. We didn’t just talk about content, we mainly took care of the team. We initiated trust-generating measures; everybody went beyond their boundaries. 

Of course, we also discussed content-related things. How are you going to develop a vision and values if you don’t talk about them? 

But for all that, trust in the team forms the necessary basis.

And then, according to Kotter, you’ve built a leadership coalition that represents the entire company, which is nothing other than a high-performing team. 

You need this one way or the other, but it’s an absolute requirement in the change process. You can’t do it without that. There is a need of a leadership coalition in the change process.

So how do you create a leadership coalition? 

You can make three common mistakes when you get leaders to support and work with you as a leadership coalition on implementation.

First, leaders often fail when they delegate change to others. 

If you leave it to your leadership coalition to manage everything without actively involving you, that’s a mistake because your involvement is essential to bringing about the change you want. Without your continued involvement, your leadership team will not be able to counter the inevitable resistance to change from other stakeholders.

Second, you can ruin your coalition’s effectiveness by appointing the wrong people to the team. Coalition members must be:

  • Skilled at what they do 
  • Qualified 
  • Credible with others in the organization 
  • Ideally influential (so they can influence others to accept change) 
  • Willing to trust each other  

If the leadership coalition cannot work together, your change efforts are doomed to fail! 

The team should be made up primarily of actual leaders from the front line and middle management. 

Third, you can hurt your coalition by giving it a weak start.

You need to make sure your coalition starts on the right footing. Only include trusted and credible co-workers on the team. Start by having them work outside the usual hierarchy, and do so with a direct reporting line to you.

This ensures that all decisions are made for the good of the entire organization and not for the individual. 

If you keep everything here in mind, your coalition’s likelihood of success will increase. 

This requires that you:

(1) stay actively engaged with your team throughout the process 

(2) assign the right people to the coalition 

(3) structure the coalition appropriately

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

About the coach​

Kai Boyd has been a leader, trainer and facilitator since 1989. He supports leaders and their teams to work together effectively, trustfully and with ease. This involves each and everyone – in their respective roles and as people. Tailor-made formats and genuine attention enable potential to unfold and synergies to emerge.

The graduate industrial engineer, managing director and former management consultant knows the requirements of his clients from many perspectives. He works systemically, strength- and solution-oriented. Leading international teams as well as work and academic programs in the USA and the UK enable him to always contribute the international perspective.

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