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Building your change management dream team: what can the public sector learn from Ted Lasso?

Take lessons from the fictional football manager to learn how to build a resilient change team, engage stakeholders effectively, and set KPIs for success.

Building a change team in the public sector is a lot like coaching a sports team. Both teams will encounter challenges, shifting financial fortunes, rules and regulations, high operational workloads, and changes in personnel. Success in a football season, and in a public sector change project, will depend on many things, but this is for certain: strong, resilient, empathetic leadership is at the core of every successful team, whether they’re in an office or on the pitch.

Fictional football manager Ted Lasso is brimming with these qualities and in this two-part series, we take a look at how Lasso might tackle change management, transposing a few of his techniques from the training ground, onto a public sector change project. 

In this first article, we look at how a change team embeds change capabilities within existing or new roles. In the football world, this stage would involve selecting players and shaping the team.

At fictional club AFC Richmond, Lasso's patience, humour, and motivational speeches softened even the most resistant of players. Now picture Lasso convincing a seasoned public servant to adopt a fresh policy - his belief in the person’s ability to adapt and make a success of their new role would shine through. Just as Lasso transforms footballers into champions, effective change leaders inspire public teams to score big wins.


Embedding change capabilities within existing or new roles

When Lasso took over at AFC Richmond, he inherited a team dominated by two players -  Jamie Tartt – a talented striker ruled by his ego, and  a team captain who was a little past his prime - Roy Kent. But you don’t need to have watched the series or be a football fan to know that a winning team isn’t built on one or two individuals. A balanced, well-rounded team consists of players with diverse backgrounds and skills who can adapt to the problem or opposition in front of them, playing in different formations, and showing willingness to be out of position sometimes to get the job done. The actual work might be different in the public sector, but the principle is the same.

 

Team building

It’s important to have a team with broad expertise and perspectives. These interdisciplinary teams will need to solve complex problems from multiple angles and will provide a comprehensive approach to change. Given current resource challenges in the public sector, the best approach to resourcing your change team may be finding overlaps between current team roles and responsibilities and the requirements of a good change manager. 

Stakeholder management is one of the most important skills of a change manager. Stakeholder engagement roles in the civil service are commonly resourced by ex-operational staff; teachers, probation officers, and members of the police force to name a few. Maximise the operational knowledge these individuals have - they know from first hand experience the wants and needs of stakeholders and the best way of engaging with them. Similarly, various roles across government should already be engaging with stakeholders on a regular basis, for example product managers and delivery managers. Therefore they will have a good understanding of the stakeholder landscape, and how to engage with them in a way that increases their awareness, understanding and ultimately adoption of the change. 

Strong communication skills are also key to successfully implementing and embedding change. Communication managers can create key messages about the change, using established comms channels to disseminate these to all impacted stakeholders. They can also help ensure the change is linked to your organisation’s strategic goals, clearly establishing the ‘why’ behind the change and helping impacted stakeholders understand the benefits. 

 

Training & Development in Change Management

Improving skills is part and parcel of coaching a football team. One-man glory hunter Jamie Tartt eventually becomes a valued team player who supports his peers on and off the pitch with the help of Lasso, his coaching team, and a few life lessons along the way. Veteran captain Roy Kent eventually retires from the pitch and his vast experience enables him to land his next role as a much-loved member of the coaching staff.

In the public sector, continuous learning makes teams more flexible and resilient to any future challenges, and helps them to feel comfortable when they need to apply skills to different situations. Encourage employees to take advantage of departmental and cross-government training schemes, and bring any learnings back to their teams.  

It is also important to empower your employees by allowing them to ‘create and test’ potential learning opportunities. Offer stakeholders reusable and standardised change and comms materials that can be tailored, including templates and examples of key deliverables. Alongside improving their understanding of common change deliverables, consider using reverse shadowing to develop their capabilities in a ‘safe to fail’ environment. In practice, this means the new employee shadowing a change manager for two weeks, and then reversing this so that the new employee leads whilst the existing change manager shadows. This allows the new employee to receive detailed feedback and help in actioning it whilst the change SME is still there for support. 

Once a change has been implemented, encourage project reviews or retrospectives to reflect on what went well, and what could be improved for next time. This should include all teams involved in implementing the change so that you gather a well-rounded view. When next implementing a change, track how these lessons learnt are being applied to encourage continuous improvement. 

 

Setting KPI’s and Demonstrating Value Early

Lasso’s early wins at AFC Richmond involved winning hearts and minds, in particular, gaining the support of his captain Roy Kent, who slowly bought into the vision and the different ways of working and became Lasso’s locker room supporter. Football works in an agile way - every week, teams go into battle against another team, they hopefully learn from their mistakes, make changes in training, and go again. But as Lasso discovered, it can take a while to notch up a win in a competitive match. 

In a change project, working in an agile way by constantly testing the changes you are making will help you to understand where you’ve gone wrong. You won’t get things right the first time but by having key performance indicators (KPIs) you can measure your success, demonstrate value early on, and ultimately increase buy in and adoption of the change.

Set the business and stakeholders up for success through targeted engagement, training, and support. Remember that different stakeholders have varying levels of interest, influence and capabilities. Use a change impact assessment to inform how you best engage with different stakeholders, according to the impact the change will have on them. 

Once change activities have been deployed, regularly review uptake, satisfaction, and operational performance, to identify activities that have maximum impact. Put processes in place that will not only embed the change beyond the life of the programme, but also ensure ownership and continuous improvement.

In part two of this series, we will look at the next steps in the process: how you can gain support and buy-in from stakeholders, embed the changes, and make them stick for good. This is Lasso’s real skill - winning hearts and minds by delivering memorable locker room speeches and extending the hand of friendship, and then making tangible improvements on the field.

 

If your organisation would like help with a change project, please get in touch to discuss how we can assist you.

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