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Asking Our Coaches: Coping with Team Realignment

Q: “How do I best help staff process and honor the grief and loss accompanying a team realignment change?”

One of our subscribers asked us this poignant question, and we proposed it to our community of coaches and mentors. We included a couple of responses in our introductory letter, but wanted you to see all of the interesting responses we received.

We found, at the high level, that coaches recommended the following:

  1. Provide support, by first acknowledging and allowing space for a full range of emotions, as well as offering tangible opportunities to help
  2. Communicate with transparency and specificity, with a plan for future steps
  3. Create a process for re-employment to connect laid off individuals with other opportunities


Here are the rest of the responses:

Be empathetic and provide support through check-ins and offering tangible opportunities

“As a manager, you can support your staff…

  • By being more empathic, caring, and compassionate.
  • By allowing them to be themselves and by constantly checking in with them on their journey.
  • By providing them support by offering them opportunities (e.g., well-being programs, counseling, etc.)”

– Ranjini Rao, Torch Executive Coach

Use “leadership nudges” as tools to both empathize and move the team forward

First, leaders should explicitly acknowledge collective loss. Often out of their own discomfort with the change, they may want to move on quickly and try to force a positive spin on the circumstances. Initially, this can eliminate space for individual team members to grieve and heal. Making “rose-colored motivational” strategy comments too early after a significant change can generate resistance towards it and result in a lingering of reduced team engagement. Instead, leaders should create room for the team to address the disequilibrium they are experiencing by showing their own vulnerability and compassion. Oh, by the way, this does not suggest a leader needs to give up their capacity to be directive and competent, however, it does mean leading the team forward through an uncomfortable experience.

One of the best ways to do this is through what Dr. Edgar Schein, a prominent psychologist in organizational development, calls “adaptive moves.”

An “adaptive move” is the opposite of a big strategic team intervention. It means using one’s curiosity and being empathetic to what the team is experiencing in the moment to better connect and understand their reality. Any action is designed to enhance relationships and help propel the team forward. In my practice I call these moves ‘leadership nudges”. So how does a nudge look in real time? It’s often very subtle but we can use a well known practice from improv to illustrate:

“Well, I understand we have all experienced a significant loss with this recent downscaling, including losing important colleagues, BUT now, we need to work together to move on”;


“Well, I understand we have all experienced a significant loss with this recent downscaling, including losing important colleagues, AND now, we need to work together to move on”.

In the first case, the “but” generates a negation to the leader’s initial acknowledgement of loss, including a micro-imposition that team members need to immediately move on from their loss. This is counter to how the “and” leaves room for the loss and ties it to the possibility of a collaborative conversation on how to move forward. Nudges offer leaders a way to learn as they go with their team so whatever a restructuring might bring, there can be shared ownership and engagement in what follows.

Dana DeNault, Torch Executive Coach

Be specific and transparent in communications and share a plan for next steps re: roles/responsibilities

“When you need to make hard decisions, there is a big difference in employee performance and morale if employees know that companies are treating them with compassion and respect. The best way is to be transparent during the whole process:

  • Be very specific about what is happening and how you will make the decision
  • Managers need to keep working and motivate their teams. Help them to understand if, when, and/or how the team might be impacted
  • Update each member on what will happen next and support them in their transition to the new role and responsibilities”

– Serena Martino, Torch Executive Coach


Practice acknowledging feelings beyond the toddler emotions (mad, sad, happy):

 “Acknowledge their feelings, and go beyond the three that we used as toddlers: mad, sad, happy. A feelings wheel or working on the Mood Meter (an app created by researchers at Yale University) are good starting points. The only way is through with feelings, so be there for them, and be prepared to hear things that may be uncomfortable for you.”

– Bego Lozano, Torch Executive Coach


Create a process to support re-employment:

“Job loss is a sudden shock to the system and brings up feelings. Helping others involves creating a safe place for employees to share their anger, concerns, and fears about the current situation and future reductions. The single best way to help others who have been laid off is to provide an in-house process. Employees still at work can use this process to understand what laid off employees are interested in, and what types of job titles and roles they are looking to fill. This process includes getting access to resumes so they can be forwarded as part of recommendations for other roles. These recommendations, leveraging networks of relationships in other companies, is the best way to facilitate re-employment. It helps current employees feel like they’re helping and helps the people looking for employment feel like they are not alone, greatly reducing anxiety for all parties involved.”

–  David Dunnington, Torch Executive Coach

This article was featured in the Torch People Development newsletter, Curiouser. Each month, we deliver the latest research, stories, questions, and insights about the art and science of people development to your inbox. Sign-up and join a community of people passionate about growth, learning and leadership.