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InfoQ Homepage Articles A Short Manual to Bring Change Successfully into Your Team

A Short Manual to Bring Change Successfully into Your Team

A short manual to bring change successfully into your team

Start with the WoMan in the mirror!

Implementing the DevOps philosophy in a team means a lot more than just changing the general set-up of the actual working conditions. Bringing a number of tools into the team's workflow won't solve the individual issues, because a team exists and works thanks to the interaction between human beings, not tools. For better or for worse.

Due to the multiple types of personalities working together in cross functional or multidisciplinary teams, it demands a varying number of modifications in personal behavior and attitude. First of all from the leader, who has to be able and willing to assume the role as mentor and engine of change.

Well-known routines and habits have to be scrutinized thoroughly. The familiar behavior everyone has adopted – consciously and unconsciously – over a long period of time needs to be reviewed. The individuals' personalities becomes the subject to be examined and worked on! Removing prejudices and biases, improving communication skills, and instilling respect and tolerance are increasingly more important success factors than apparent at first sight. This personal change is a very ambitious task for all stakeholders requiring time, strong will and stamina – from the leader and from the employees!

When talking about change and DevOps there is no such thing like “best practices”, because there are unlimited differences in personality as well as ways how to do DevOps. The challenge is to find your own individual way to succeed in the end!

Good communication is key to progress while empathy is like an additional pair of eyes to recognize what is going on behind all those faces! It is time to start thinking outside your own, little box!

Most people hate changes because change brings the unknown!

Taking a look at the daily life all around – not only in business or the tech-industry – one important fact stands out: most people hate changes! “It has always been that way!” or “Nobody wants that!” are typical answers, when you want others to try a new method or system. And being honest with ourselves: from time to time we do the same!

Here is one example from daily life – far removed from our business world. For a long time I worked with people who barely had enough to survive. They were all unemployed for a long time or had never worked in their life before. Most of them were affected by multiple issues like bad health, psychological problems, high debts or nowhere to live. Some of them were addicted to drugs. They lived on a small social welfare – which indeed is better than having nothing.

But they were unhappy to depend on the social welfare. At the same time, they were afraid to become responsible for their own lives and making changes. It was obvious to me that a slight change in attitude and behavior would turn into a huge improvement in their living circumstances. One astonishing fact was that although they were living at the subsistence minimum AND they were not satisfied with their situation, most of those deprived people decided to stay where they were instead of trying to change. The main reason was that they were unsure of what they would have to face after the change process started!

And that is the key to the question of why changes are so difficult for most people? Because nobody knows for sure what will lie ahead, as a result of the change! Change always means leaving an individual's comfort zone and exploring new fields of one's personality and the personalities of others. Nobody can guarantee that the new experiences will always be pleasant !

Even in the corporate world it is often obvious that a change is necessary to compete in evolving markets but nothing happens. It is not unusual that managers hold off important decisions until it is nearly too late. Unless there are only two possibilities left: stay the same and become extinct or start to change and keep the hope alive. Because of lack of time, these changes often end up being extremely radical such as laying off many employees or closing down some parts of the company.

For employees in these companies “change” is closely related to problems, trouble, anxiety and - due to lack of time – high pressure. There is strong ambivalence regarding pressure: on one hand, nobody wants to have high pressure while talking about change. On the other hand, it is one of the most effective drivers for change.

Let's look at some reasons why change is so unloved by most people:

  • Not knowing what comes after the change
  • Not knowing what is really necessary for successful change to happen
  • Inertia to try new paths
  • In all likelihood, there will be failures
  • Bad experience with former attempts at changing
  • Myths told by others about the impossibility of changing
  • Too much pressure
  • Not enough pressure
  • No guarantee of success at the end of the road

Uncertainty and anxiety accompany the whole process of change – from the very start until a successful implementation.

“And now you will do DevOps!”

DevOps is a philosophy with which companies are able to do their work better and faster. But to be honest DevOps is not mandatory for the survival of the company. New management systems and other ways of improving work could also lead to success. The next big challenge is knowing what DevOps really is and how to do it! There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for DevOps and it may become a kind of moving target. The simplistic idea of taking some people from development and some from operations, mixing them up and giving them new awesome tools will most probably just lead to frustration.

Let's look at some mental obstacles to adopting DevOps:

  • No vital need for doing DevOps
  • No recipe on how to achieve it
  • No clear definition of DevOps

There is only one way for such a change to become a success story: at least one person must lead the individuals and the team through the rough and uncomfortable fields of transition. But before trying to bring other people successfully onboard the new ways, all leaders have to start somewhere else, somewhere difficult: the WoMan in the mirror! Only then can the leader put himself, convincingly, in the most important shoes in this process of change: being the good example, the motivator, the mentor, the communicator.

How to use CALMS in a different way

Since 2010 CAMS is a well-known acronym describing the core values of the DevOps movement. John Willis and Damon Edwards first defined CAMS: “Culture, Automation, Measurement, Sharing”. Sometime later Jez Humble added the “L” for “Lean” and so CAMS became CALMS. On a Silicon Valley DevOps meeting John Willis also said: “If you can´t get the C, don´t bother with the A, the M and the S!”

When talking about change in teams, CALMS can be translated in a different way to point out the importance of leadership: Change – Anxiety – Leadership – Motivation – Success!

You won´t have the C(hange), the M(otivation) and the S(uccess) without the L(eadership) because of the A(nxiety)!

The Leader is the one person who has to deal with all the anxieties caused by the challenges of change within the team and find out the individual motivations of each stakeholder to turn the idea of change into a successful project. And truth be told: this is a highly demanding task, which requires full commitment, concentration and belief from the leader.

To fulfill this ambitious goal, check if you are ready for it by answering the questions below.

“Do you really want to change yourself?”

This is the first question every leader should ask himself before starting this big adventure, because it often turns out to be a rocky and lonely road. Have a look at the WoMan in the mirror and ask yourself before initiating a process of personal changes in your team: are YOU ready for modifications in your own behavior and attitude? If the answer to this question is a clear YES, without any hesitation, then go on and step into this surprising road of change and discover what will happen to you and all the people around you!

But if you need to think a little bit longer about the YES or if “Yes?” sounds like a question, you should review your reasoning, double-check your intentions and convince yourself. When you have enough good arguments and are able to get your inner team together, you are ready to take the first step in the process of personal change!

At this very early planning stage you have to consider which attitudes, soft skills and team culture will be necessary to breathe life into the idea of DevOps in your team.

Always remember that under the Systems Thinking approach slight changes in our behavior will have - sometimes unexpectedly – effects on other people´s behavior! Using this insight retroactively, it also means that your behavior and your interactions have influenced the behavior and interaction of your team members in the past. Even if this was not your intention!

Think carefully about what you expect of yourself and your team members. Define your vision for yourself: where do you want to be and where do you want your team to be after a clearly defined time period? Then it is time for the next question.

“Do you really know all members of your team?”

It's important to have a clear overview of your team members' attitudes, behaviors and soft skills. With this information you will be able to identify the individual gaps between the as-is and the target status of each employee. Communication and empathy are the keys to learning about the team: asking and listening, watching and feeling!

The next challenging task is waiting for you. To learn what your team and the individuals in your team will need from you as their leader, you have to try to change your point of view. Try to see the requested changes through their eyes and imagine what will convince them to follow you and to face this challenge. Understand the individual anxieties because they reveal precious information to find personal drivers. Be aware that motivation differs from person to person and is depending on the situation. Ask yourself if you would be willing to follow a leader like yourself. Get “inTeam,mate!” with your team, try to get to know them as well as possible.

Build up a reliable relationship between all parts of the team. The technique of Thinking Aloud can help you gain more insight on what your teammates are thinking. Encourage them to share their opinions and ideas with you by first sharing your opinions and ideas with them. To be successful with this technique you need time to train it. Go ahead with the next question.

“Do you really know yourself?”

The next step is to compare your new discoveries concerning the upcoming needs of all stakeholders to your current personal leadership traits.. At the very least, you have to start an intensive self-reflection. Reflecting on oneself is one of the most valuable skills for a leader because it gives you the chance to be responsible for your life, your personality and your success. Be the master of your own life.

Identify your personal strengths and weaknesses. Are they a good fit for your future tasks as a leader? Do you really use your abilities to their full extent? Which situations make you feel uncomfortable or make you hesitate? How do you honestly feel about your tasks? Understand the balance between your abilities and shortcomings your positive and negative emotions in light of your tasks. Try to find concrete clues to your personal impressions. Step by step you will build your self-image depending on your own perception. But that is not enough, you also need feedback.

“Do you really look for feedback?”

Feedback is essential and not only during the process of change. Feedback shows you how other people perceive you as a person and as a leader. It becomes obvious where your self-perception corresponds with others' perception of you and where not. Since feedback is an important element in a DevOps culture your team will learn with you as a positive example that feedback is not one directional. It will help to improve team culture and workflows. So actively ask for feedback.

Communication is again the key. Try to get detailed feedback from each team member. It is important that you do not argue about their impressions, but rather ask follow-up questions and encourage all stakeholders to be true and honest, even if the outcome is not what you expected. Be aware that at this stage feedback may knock you off your feet, both in positive and negative ways. Some people may not be used to giving feedback in a helpful way. Try to figure out the factual content and remain at that level.

Feedback does not mean the spoken words themselves and the tone alone. Feedback is much more. How do people react when you enter a room, when you are talking to them, or when you ask someone to do something? What about their body language and facial expression? If you want to get comprehensive feedback, you have to improve your perception and “read between the lines”.

Truly great leaders spend as much time collecting and acting upon feedback as they do providing it!

(Alexander Lucia, author)

With all the information you have collected you are now able to compare your self-image with the public image and then compare that to the vision of your “future self”.

Looking for feedback and reflecting on yourself are ongoing tasks for you in your own change process, in the team's change process, and even afterwards. Stay informed and be aware of the next mission.

“Do you really get close up to each member of your team?”

It's human nature to get close to people we like and who seem to like us. But when building new interdisciplinary teams with a DevOps philosophy, different types of personalities will probably be mixed together. Some of them may be very critical in their opinions about a new leader, a new team, new ideas or even new co-workers. As a leader who wants to prepare a successful transition, it is of tremendous importance to get close to these distinct members of the team. Don't always surround yourself with those who “get” you. The only chance to attract those critical types onto your side and to convince them is to listen to what they are saying, to observe how they are behaving and how they are acting. An added benefit is that you gain further important information about how to improve, often in an extremely open way because those critical guys don't want to please you at any price. Show those “outsiders” that you care about them even if they don't share your opinions. By now it is time for the core of every process of change.

“Do you really have trust?”

Trust is important for every team and especially during times of change. As a leader you need to trust yourself and to give trust to your team. If you do not trust yourself, you will give up at the first hint of problems in the change process.

A team that feels completely under scrutiny will sooner or later spend a lot of energy to find ways and spaces which are not tightly controlled. They won´t concentrate on the original task but on how to do it without being monitored. Mistrust is not the right atmosphere for successful changes and surely not for DevOps. There is no need to cling desperately to your own personal control panel! By giving up your “command & control” mentality and talking with your team members instead you will automatically gain a lot more control without struggling for it. With making them feel responsible for their work and the team´s work and success and giving space for self-organizing, all stakeholders will start to think about what to do and why. And with starting to ask “why”, all parts of the team will reflect and improve work and interaction.

Transparency is mandatory and very good communication skills are necessary once again. To demonstrate confidence and trust to the team is an invaluable asset for the whole change process and for your leadership. The trust you give is the trust you will get!

Do you show your trust and act trustful? If not, then start now. People sometimes need to learn to experience trust from the leader! Some will ask for you to control, because they are not familiar with making decisions on their own. And they are unsure of what happens after this decision. So when you start giving them trust, your team is automatically effected by this change and has to learn how to deal with it.

Give them time and be patient. If you do that, you will soon see that your team will start mimicking your behavior. And that will spread like a good virus! The viral process of change is going to start and will influence even the skeptical voices, even if you have just started your own personal change. The team will do most of your job on their own.

Now your task is to support the efforts of the multipliers and to recognize successes, even small ones. Focus on the positive outcomes and if something doesn't work at first, try to help with factual questions without any accusations. Giving and getting feedback is now part of your everyday work. The method of “Non-Violent Communication” according to Marshall B. Rosenberg could be helpful here, for you and your team.

“Do you show your appreciation?”

For building up a permanent atmosphere in which modifications, feedback and changes are “business as usual” and always welcome, it is necessary that all stakeholders know the value they provide to the team and to the leader.

Monetary income is not the appreciation we're referring to. Show your appreciation for each of the individuals and for the work they do each day in the way you interact with your team. If the team knows its value, then it is possible to talk about failures and problems in a factual way. Each failure can then become the next big step on the way to success! And rest assured: failures will happen during times of change and beyond. “I am okay – you are okay” (Thomas A. Harris) is the most important attitude you should have in your team interactions.

How often do you use the words “thank you” and “please”? Thank people often and especially when they did something you asked them to do. Show them that you recognize it and that it is not self-evident to you. But you really have to mean it. Don´t say anything you do not mean. Make sure not to play the blame game and make clear that you do not accept it being played by others!

Feel happy to talk with your team and show it with a bright smile. Show your interest in their ideas and feel flattered when they tell you about their private issues, which is indeed a great sign of trust. Ask about their feelings in the whole process. Be polite and respectful but honest! When you have reached this point, you have been successful in the past period. On your journey a lot of changes have been adopted by your team by now. So you should update the as-is state of yourself and of your team constantly. Most likely it will become apparent that by simply changing your behavior, a lot of the work is already done! But your job as a leader is not over yet.

“Do you really see your leadership as a service?”

Leadership is not something you can do on the sideline. A good leader will not have time to produce many lines of code, so it is not mandatory for the leader to be a developer or an operations guy. To lead people with the aim of bringing out the best inside of them both as individuals and as a team is a task with high demands. On one hand, you have to keep the change objectives you want to reach in mind. On the other hand you have to look out for your team, find solutions and lead them through obstacles towards the objectives.

You are responsible for the framework and the general setting which will provide the best solutions for your team. Additionally you have to lead and modify yourself constantly. Change will be your companion on the way to continuous success. This process is not always the easiest one. And even a leader sometimes needs help from the outside, for example from consultants who have a neutral view on the situation. Asking for help is not a weakness; it is rather a strength to recognize that help is needed. And it is also a good example for the team.

The support you are giving to your team is not something annoying you have to do. It is a privilege to lead people! Leadership is a service you give to your team whenever the team members need your support in any way. And it is your task to foresee what the team needs even before the team members know it. To be a leader is more than just a job, a position or a title; it is a personal attitude with a well-developed service mentality. Consider your leadership as a service – LaaS! And the service to your team will never end.


You should always remember one thing, that you are responsible for a lot of interaction and behavior in the team by means of the way you are leading the individual team members. So if something is not going the way you want it, start looking at yourself and ask what is your role in this misconduct: start with the WoMan in the mirror!

About the Author

Sabine Bernecker-Bendixen (46) coaches people, moderates workshops, leads projects and teaches people of different professions in communication skills, soft skills and leadership skills for more than 20 years. She helps new teams to grow together and leaders to find their own people centred way of bringing out the best inside of them.

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