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Stuck in the middle - part two - the manager’s view” – managing teams during change

Managing through change with Taylor Clarke
Photo by Meritt Thomas on Unsplash

In my previous blog, I was reflecting on how senior leaders might support others in the organisation who are managing people during periods of organisational change.

That blog was framed around the song ‘Stuck in the middle with you’ by Stealers Wheel as I had that playing on a loop on my internal playlist following some conversations with a client. I’ll stick with that framing here and call it ‘part two

The context of the conversation, as mentioned in the previous blog was that managers are often caught (stuck) in the middle between the people affected by change and the senior team determining strategy and timelines.

The world between strategy and people can be a difficult place to navigate –and some discussions with people managers since my earlier blog was published have really pushed home my thought that it will serve organisations well to take steps to reduce the pain that managers might feel and instead harness the potential that this key role can play in landing the change well.

In this ‘part two’ blog, I wanted to frame my thinking from the perspective of the people manager – rather than the senior leader. Much of the content is the same – but some of the tips and actions change when thinking from the perspective of managers.

Trying to make some sense of it all

As I said before, when looking at change management strategy with clients, I often reference William Bridges’ Transition Model which looks at transition through change as being like crossing a river. For those who haven’t seen the previous blog it’s worth mentioning here that when I first came across Bridges’ model, I was pretty sceptical – see change as a river for people to cross…. REALLY?? .. surely that’s a bit simplistic….??

…. but the more I explored the model, the more I realised that breaking down the journey (transition) through change into the three zones makes absolute sense – and helps create and frame great conversations about the journey, challenges and emotions of change. The Bridges Model is explored here by my colleague Alistair Brown).

I’m definitely an advocate for the Bridges Model now and use it frequently when working with senior teams as they plan and implement change – and I’ll keep to the river analogy as I talk here about the role of managers.

Sometimes, organisations focus the development of change leadership capability on the most senior team. That’s definitely vital - but more often than not, there is not just one boat of people that need to cross the river (skippered by the most senior leader) – but a flotilla of smaller boats (teams) with each small boat being skippered by a manager.

I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs…

So, what can managers do as they look to embrace the change and play their part supporting their teams as they cross the river? How can managers increase their own capability to manage ambiguity and help their teams to make sense of it all?

In another previous blog, I shared some thoughts on Taylor Clarke’s Releasing Potential in Change model. In my opinion, the role of managers during change is huge – and I think they are key players at a number of steps on the TC model.

Taylor Clarke Releasing Potential Model
Taylor Clarke Releasing Potential Model

Who better to help test the Compelling Purpose message on or to Diagnose the Impact & Readiness of the team?

Who is most likely to understand potential challenges that will be raised by team – which can be invaluable in building the communication strategy as leaders look to Mobilise Commitment and Engage Everyone?

And who is most likely to be first to see/hear resistance as you look to Embed Behaviours?

In my view it’s the team manager!

Managers might feel stuck in the middle between strategy and their people, but in my experience, their role is vital.

Helping translate the strategy into meaningful conversation and progress with the team is key. And, as part of that, having the confidence to have crucial conversations with leaders at appropriate points in the journey is really important. Of course, this all takes an organisational culture where challenge and discussion are encouraged. But organisations and leaders will benefit from a culture that allows resistance to be understood and managed in a positive way.

I think any time managers can spend developing their capability to manage teams during change is well spent. Here’s five thoughts for managers to consider as you work to support your teams through change:

1) Focus on your own transition early: Understand that you may need to start your transition journey earlier than your team to be able to be far enough along your own journey to manage your team effectively during change – so look for ways to get involved in change conversations with peers and leaders as early as possible. And welcome any information you get as a result - even if you need to keep some of it to yourself for now.

2) Reduce Ambiguity:

  • Push for clarity – “what information can I share and when?”

  • Think about the likely questions/fears your team might have…. … and seek agreement of ‘lines to take’ – “If someone asks …. Are you ok that I say …..”

  • Be honest about what you don’t know…..and be happy to share what you think might happen – but be clear it’s just your personal view (linked to ‘lines to take’) and that as new information becomes available you’ll update

3) Create space to catch breath: Make sure your change plan builds in enough ‘islands’ to allow you and your peers to catch your breath (‘islands’ in the Bridges Transition Model are planned stops on the journey to allow people to talk – to reflect – and to share challenges before restarting the journey).

4) Be an authentic leader: Share your own fears about the change/journey – as well as your hopes and vision for the future. And encourage the team to share their fears and hopes openly without fear of being considered negative.

5) Welcome challenges: People feeling they are Allowed (see TC model) and encouraged to challenge and ask questions is key – recognising and reflecting on challenges early in the process might just save a load of pain later.

In summing up, I’d say again that the role of people managers during organisational change is vital. Reframing the role as being the bridge between strategy and people as opposed to feeling ‘stuck in the middle’ is not always easy – but where managers are able to operate comfortably and skilfully despite often inevitable ambiguity, the transition from old to new world has far greater chance of success – and by acting as the conduit for healthy reflection and challenge on the plan – the end result can be far better for colleagues, clients and customers and the organisation.

Can Taylor Clarke Help You?

We have been evolving our management of change framework and tool kit to help us work collaboratively with clients. We help client organisations navigate their way through a process which helps identify the changes they want to make, understand the cultural challenges and to be more intentional around how they lead and shape their approach to communicating and embedding those changes.

If you are interested in finding out about how Taylor Clarke can help you plan and/or implement organisational change, or upskills leaders and managers, then please get in touch here or email


Dougie Ritchie

Written by Dougie Ritchie, Principal Consultant

With deep experience gained through many years leading and supporting organisational change impacting global teams, Dougie is also a qualified Prosci Change Management and Agile Project Management Practitioner as well as a qualified Executive Coach. He has worked with senior leaders in both the Private and Public Sectors (including Scottish Government and NDPBs) helping them define and implement their organisational strategy and change management plans.


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