Understanding the “wrong people” on your team

I think the dilemma of keeping the right people on your team and letting go of the wrong people is something that any leader and successful organization must face at some point if not periodically throughout different change processes.  The essential question this week brings up a lot of questions for me.  What criteria or qualities separate right people from wrong people?  Is this more of a situational question that simply requires reorganizing individuals as they are needed to fulfill various roles and responsibilities within an organization?  Is there a time in the organization’s change process or growth where some of the right people have now become the wrong people?  As individuals change and evolve throughout their time within a team or organization, couldn’t they “outgrow” their existing roles?  What if the organization undergoes transformational change, where the vision and moral purpose might be fundamentally altered or individuals must be “transformed” as well; what is some individuals cannot or will not participate in this transformation?  Does this make them now the wrong people for the team?

When leaders are hiring new members of their team, whether it’s a single member or several, it is important to understand the existing relationships and group dynamics of the team.  In a way, new hires (including new leaders)  are an opportunity to infuse new personalities, skillsets, and perspectives that ideally would add value to the team.  As Fullan (2014) points out, “(A)ll successful organizations in a culture of change have been found to a certain extent to seek diversity of employees, ideas, and experiences while simultaneously establishing mechanisms for sorting out, reconciling, and acting on new patterns” (p. 75).  These mechanisms are crucial to the organization’s success because change is not merely occurring with the organizational structures and processes but more importantly with the people within and the relationships that exist between and among them.

Effective leaders are those that can manage these sensitive transitions, keeping the vision and integrity of the organization while maintaining trust and accountability through their relationships with their team.  Another thing to keep in mind is that the organization may be undergoing what Anderson and Anderson (201) refer to as developmental, transitional, or transformational changes, and the individuals and teams that existed in the old state are not necessarily the right fit for the new state.  They identify developmental changes as simply improvements to existing processes, while transformational change is much more complex and requires a fundamental shift in mindset, behaviors, and identities, made more challenging because the process evolves and the end goal is not always as clearly defined in the beginning.  Transformational change asks everyone in the organization (leaders and team members alike) to undergo “‘inner’ shifts of mindset and culture, [and] the ‘external’ implementation of new structures, systems, processes or technology” (Anderson & Anderson, 2010); this can certainly be problematic for some individuals and wrong people will emerge from the transformation if they were unable or unwilling to make these shifts.

For some examples of major companies that underwent transformational change to become successful, read about these “6 Companies that Succeeded by Changing Their Business Model” (Walley, 2010).

The middle of the road type of change is what Anderson and Anderson (2010) describe as transitional change – replacing what process currently exists by designing and implementing a new way of doing things.  They cite examples as transitioning to a new organizational chart, adding new departments, products, or services, or even shifting to new technology.  While these changes can be disruptive to a certain extent, they require effective leaders to manage the transition period which includes preparing the organization and staff for transition as well as evaluating and monitoring effects of the transition.  The authors also point out that typically in transitional change, two variables are present – first, there is a clearly defined end goal or result that enables the leader to outline and manage the transition process; second, team members would be “largely impacted only at the levels of skills and actions, not the more personal levels of mindset, behavior, and culture” (Anderson & Anderson, 2010, para 5).

Transitional change can go smoothly if there is a fit for each team member in the new state of the organization.  If leaders can build on the relationships with their team(s) and design a process that accommodates their needs, the transition might still be “painful” but could also be rewarding as well.  Team members could feel that they are growing with the organization and the new skills, knowledge, and tech tools that improve their capacity can be empowering and inspirational.   On the other hand, team members could also be very resistant to any change and disagree with the need or importance for new tech tools or processes.  New technology and thereby new skills or processes (and especially added responsibilities) that go along with them can be particularly stressful for existing team members who have invested time and created their own strategies with current tools and processes.

Maxwell (2010) shares an experience conducting a workshop for a team of managers who had not quite jumped on board with the new changes being implemented in their organization.  According to her, this “Roger was typical – there was nothing anyone could say or do that would convince him the changes had been of any benefit – and he fully intended to carrying on working as he always had (thank you very much). The management team, increasingly frustrated with his intractability, were running out of ideas on how to convince him.”   And when the management team runs out of ideas, Roger is on his way to making the list of wrong people.  As the workshop facilitator, Maxwell’s role is to get not only Roger, but the rest of the managers “onboard” with the organizational changes; she references Rick Maurer’s “3 types of resistance to change” as a useful framework for understanding the resistance being displayed by the team:

Level 1 – “I don’t get it” . This is resistance borne out of just not understanding what the change is all about – the why? and the WIIFM.

Level 2 – “I don’t like it” At this level people ‘get’ the change, but they just hate it.

Level 3 – “I don’t trust you/ the organisation”  At this level people respond not to the change per se but who is suggesting it

(Read more about Rick Maurer’s 3 types of resistance to change here).

Successful transitional change is also contingent upon the readiness with which team members adopt the new state of the organization; leaders may face initial resistance from the team and possibly continued resistance from a smaller group of individuals.  It will be important for the leader(s) to utilize their relationships to help determine the underlying reasons or issues causing the resistance and attempt to resolve them appropriately.

Maxwell recognized that Roger’s resistance had more to do with the broken trust and relationships with the leaders, peers, and his connection to the organization as a whole.  Now that she has recognized the real root of the resistance, she can recommend some strategies for the management team to implement.  At this point, effort needs to be made by Roger as well; if his relationships can be rebuilt, he will be more likely to endorse the changes and possibly even help convince other managers to do the same.  If he cannot get past the broken relationships or no longer feels connected to the organization’s vision and moral purpose because of the changes, he and/or the management team might ultimately decide that he is no longer a good fit for the organization.  This is a pivotal time for the leader too, because the timetable needed for the transition to take place can be “set back” if individual team members are unable or unwilling to adopt the new skillsets or processes.  These issues can unintentionally defeat the purpose of the transition, create stress on relationships, take up valuable time and efforts from the leader and other staff who might have to fill in the gaps during the transition, as well as reduce morale around a transition process that was meant to inspire team members and improve the organization as a whole.

I believe it is significant to acknowledge that being the wrong person does not mean being wrong; for me, it means that an individual is not suited for the role needed.  I think initially when team members start to display the characteristics and qualities of the wrong people (whatever those might be), it is the leader(s) responsibility and burden to dig deeper into the causes for the conflict, issues, or resistance.  Has there been a shift away or misalignment with organizational culture, identity, values, etc.?  Are there broken relationships or communication issues that have caused previously right people to become wrong people?  Is the change process pointing out areas of need and flaws in the organization and its structures and processes?

I would also argue that if you find yourself unable or unwilling to adopt the changes in the organization where you work, leaving that organization will undoubtedly require you to change anyway, to become part of a new organization.  This is then possibly a juncture for any professional to revisit their own moral purpose, re-evalute their interest, commitment, and alignment with the organization, consult with peers and mentors, then decide their next steps.  My point is that, wrong people aren’t necessarily or always wrong in general; that there is probably a better suited role for them elsewhere that will be better for them as an individual, for the current organization, and for the new organization they join.

In some cases, tasks and responsibilities that were carried out by team members might be automated through technology and then the leader must determine if this frees up time for team members to do more or if they will add new roles and responsibilities to their jobs.  And unfortunately, it could simply be that the new state of the organization no longer requires some members of the team.  Ideally, this is an important factor that would have been identified and addressed in designing the transitional plan but it could also have occurred in the period following the transitional change as the new tools and processes take hold and further changes are brought to the surface.

So after all this talk about the wrong people, can we address what makes team members the right people for an organization?  Well, that might be another topic for another blog.  In short, Kotter’s (2012) article in Forbes, about why Kodak failed as a corporation, tells us something important about the right people in any organization that cultivates a culture of change:

“Historically, Kodak was built on a culture of innovation and change. It’s the type of culture that’s full of passionate innovators, already naturally in tune to the urgency surrounding changes in the market and technology. It’s these people – those excited about new ideas within your own organization – who keep your company moving ahead instead of falling behind. One key to avoiding complacency is to ensure these innovators have a voice with enough volume to be heard (and listened to) at the top. It’s these voices that can continue to keep a sense of urgency in your organization. If they are given the power to lead, they will continue to innovate, help keep a culture of urgency and affect change.”

One last observation, on a big picture level, right people are able to focus on the moral purpose behind developmental, transitional, and transformational change.  Wrong people are those that disagree or don’t identify with the current change process.  Again, they aren’t necessarily wrong, but as much as I believe it’s people that make the team or an organization, ultimately people change and/or move on to other things.  If an organization is to continue to thrive and affect change, it must be able to withstand the test of the wrong people; and that is the challenge that leaders must be willing to face if they want to eventually have the right people on their team.


Anderson, D. & Ackerman-Anderson, L. A. (2010).  What is transformation, and why is it so hard to manage?.  Being First, Inc.  Retrieved from: http://www.beingfirst.com/resources/pdf/SR_WhatIsTransformation_v3_101006.pdf

Fullan, M. (2014). Leading in a Culture of Change. Somerset, NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. Retrieved from: http://egandb.uas.alaska.edu:2081/lib/uasoutheast/reader.action?ppg=46&docID=10842273&tm=1446361438665

Kotter, J.  (May 2, 2012).  “Barriers to Change:  The Real Reason Behind the Kodak Downfall”.  Forbes, Inc.  Retrieved from:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnkotter/2012/05/02/barriers-to-change-the-real-reason-behind-the-kodak-downfall/

Maurer, R.  (June 28, 2012).  “Resistance to Change – Why it Matters and What to Do About It.”  www.rickmaurer.com.  Retrieved from:  http://www.rickmaurer.com/resistance-to-change-why-it-matters-and-what-to-do-about-it-2/

Maxwell, A.  (May 24, 2010).  “Resistance to Change – A Story about Roger”.  Leadership Consultants, http://www.andpartnership.com.  Retrieved from:  http://leadershipconsultants.co.uk/2010/05/24/resistance-to-change-a-story-about-roger/

Walley, L.  (April 5, 2010).  “6 Companies that Succeeded by Changing Their Business Model”.  www.chargify.com.  Retrieved from:  https://www.chargify.com/blog/6-companies-that-succeeded-by-changing-their-business-model/

3 thoughts on “Understanding the “wrong people” on your team

  1. I totally agree with you Mia! When a person is “wrong” they are just ill suited for the position they are in. When there is this huge conflict, when they don’t want to incorporate the change that is necessary for the position it becomes and issue. At this point people around them are not happy but neither is the person who everyone is seeing as the “wrong” person. This is when you would hope that they would remove themselves from the situation and move on to a position that makes more sense for them. If not, this is when administration should (but doesn’t always) step in and make the decisions.


  2. You wrote: “Is there a time in the organization’s change process or growth where some of the right people have now become the wrong people? “

    Good point, we are always changing and depending on the issue or topic would that change which side we are on right or wrong. That is why I think it’s so important to hear all sides. I often learn a lot from people who think differently from me, if they don’t change my mind, at least I understand where they are coming from and why they feel a certain way. In the end hopefully we can come to a middle ground, at least professionally, because in the end it’s all for the betterment of our students.


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