7 Change Management Exercises to build engagement and minimize resistance
A change management exercise is a low-stakes, purposeful activity that helps staff prepare for organizational development projects.
Change management activities and exercises can significantly impact change project outcomes. Exercises show staff how to deal with the upcoming change, whether aimed at rank-and-file employees or management teams.
Change management activities are especially relevant now. In a 2021 interview, author April Rinne tells us that getting ready for change is not only a challenge but an element of mindset that we can improve through training. In Rinne’s words, “something we can strengthen and have to strengthen and need to strengthen.”
Whatever change management models you use, exercises should be part of your most valuable tools. This article will prepare you for implementing exercises to motivate employees, build teams, minimize resistance to change, and support your company’s vision.
- Define what we mean by “change management exercise”;
- Explain seven fantastic change management exercises;
- Mention three more change management exercises suitable for remote workers;
- Explain the benefits of change exercises for staff.
Exercises and other company communication channels are important in a strong change management strategy.
Read on and see how you can enhance your company’s change implementation.
What is a change management exercise?
Change management exercises are creative activities that engage staff with organizational changes. Exercises are excellent for fostering a positive and enjoyable atmosphere that motivates employees to accept change and actively engage with the change process.
Change management exercises often involve team-building activities, interactive workshops, or playful simulations. They should help employees and stakeholders embrace change more enthusiastically, build camaraderie, and develop new skills.
The primary goal of exercises is to make the change management process more enjoyable, memorable, and effective by infusing an element of fun. They should encourage active participation in the transformation journey.
Change management exercises are usually used in zero-stakes settings. They help employees to understand the proposed change without any pressure on their job performance. In many cases, these exercises help to minimize employee resistance to change and lead to successful change management projects.
Seven change management exercises to enhance your change process
So – you’ve come here for practical ideas for great games and activities. And that’s exactly what we’ll talk about in this section.
It will explain seven simple change management exercises. We can’t claim that they are perfect. However, generations of leaders have seen how these activities can minimize employee resistance, help introduce different perspectives, and, ultimately, add to the success of organizational change.
One of these exercises could be just what employees need:
1. Cross Your Arms the “Other” Way
Gather employees and ask them to cross their arms. Then, once they are comfortable in that position, ask them to fold their arms the other way. It feels quite different, doesn’t it? Despite the fact that they are only making a slight change to their stance, the feeling is not the same.
Ask your employees to discuss how this small but noticeable change makes them feel. For some, the unfamiliarity of the posture might be frustrating.
Or it may be uncomfortable. However, the longer they sit with their arms this way, the more comfortable they’ll become. Relate this feeling to how an organizational change can initially feel wrong but begins to feel more natural as time progresses.
2. The Alien at Dinner
In this game, employees pretend to be aliens sitting at a human dinner party for the first time. While observing the humans around them, the alien employee is asked to note their odd behavior while eating and talking to one another.
This exercise demonstrates to employees the importance of diversity in thought, keeping an open mind, and really considering others’ ideas. It helps people learn to question what they have long accepted as normal. Change management exercises like this help staff become more comfortable assessing how things are done now and how they can be improved.
3. Changing Places
Arrange chairs in a circle and place an object in the center. Ask employees to take a seat, then observe the object. After a minute or so, ask them to get up and change seats. Call on them to describe the object from their new point of view. Then, tell them they can get up and change seats again.
Some employees will wish to stay put. However, staying in the same place limits the number of perspectives that they can have. In contrast, when employees observe the object from a different perspective, they can notice something new.
Change management exercises illustrating the importance of gaining a new perspective help mollify resistance and show how a change can benefit.
4. The Ups and Downs of Change
Create a list of change-related words, such as “transformation,” “implementation,” “transition,” “training,” “process change,” and more of the like. Read different words aloud and ask employees to step forward if the word evokes a positive response and backward for a negative response.
After each word, have employees observe the changes in the room and discuss why they chose to step forward or backward. Those who stepped backward may have a stronger tendency to resist change or at least associate negative emotions with change. Open a dialogue about how thinking of change-related terms positively will help them get them farther.
5. The Four Ps
With a large sheet of paper or board, create four columns labeled with the following words: Project, Purpose, Particulars, and People.
Ask the group to fill out each column depending on how they believe a given change will affect those four entities. By asking employees to articulate their concerns about how a change will affect certain things, change managers can more effectively address their apprehensions.
Discussing these concerns will help employees better understand the true effects of the change and reduce resistance.
6. Bounce Back
Ask your employees to pair up. Then, give each pair a rubber ball and ask them to bounce it back and forth. After a few minutes, ask the group if they were ever concerned that the ball would not bounce up after they tossed it to the ground.
Just like a bouncy ball, organizations will rebound from the challenges produced by change. Change management exercises such as this encourage employees to embrace the movement and understand that they will recover afterward, even if a change is uncomfortable at the moment.
7. Can-Do Company
Split the employees into teams of 5 or 6 and ask them to develop a simple, fun business idea that they will present to the entire group. Give each team member a role like planning, design, or sales.
After letting the groups strategize for 10 minutes, move a few participants from each group around to other groups. Then, introduce one new criterium the business idea must contain. Given the new information, allow the groups to strategize for another 10 minutes. At the end of the session, each group presents their idea, and everyone votes on the best one.
This exercise demonstrates the importance of being flexible during the planning process. It simulates the need to work as a team, even amid changes to the team itself, and embracing others’ ideas.
After, ask the employees to reflect on what good things came from having a new perspective on the team. How did the end product change from that first round of planning to the second?
Change management exercises for remote workers
In 2023, many workplaces now operate in hybrid teams. This makes change management exercises more challenging. Even though leading teams remotely requires increased communication and clear expectations, the older team-building methods won’t work well.
In light of the present situation, below are two change management exercises that can be done via Zoom with your team to empower them to deal with more unknowns during this period and beyond.
Draw, draw, draw
Gather your team on a video call and instruct them to have paper and pens ready. Preface the exercise by saying that drawing skills are not being measured, and each employee should concentrate on simply completing the task.
The manager will begin with an instruction to have everyone draw a house. After a couple of minutes and before the picture is completed, the manager will say they changed their minds and want a picture of a boat. Again, at some point before everyone finishes, the manager will change the directions and tell everyone to draw a castle.
As the manager keeps changing their mind, employees might begin to feel a bit fed up. After a series of changes and before engagement is lost, the facilitator should start a conversation about what everyone experienced.
This exercise highlights the frustration that change can elicit and the negative behaviors associated with making something new each time from scratch. This is a great way to have employees look critically at which points during the exercise they became frustrated and why.
The conversation can broaden to address where sudden pivots have been made at work, how employees rose to the challenge, and how making that change inspired innovation or an improved way of doing things.
Signature for change
Ask all employees on your video conferencing call to sign their names ten times on paper. This should take a minute; promptly ask them to do it again. Once done, instruct employees to put the pen in their other hand and do ten signatures again.
Initiate a conversation about how hard signing their name was using their opposite hand and any challenges that arose.
Now, ask them to sign their signature again ten times. Most people will use their usual hand, but why did they switch back? The instructions didn’t change. The point of the exercise is to demonstrate how difficult change can be, and most people will revert to what they know unless they are making a concerted effort to implement change.
Change-themed Online Escape Room
A change-themed online escape room is a captivating team-building activity for remote workers that combines the excitement of an escape room challenge with the objectives of a change management project.
Participants work together via video conferencing platforms to solve puzzles, decipher clues, and complete tasks directly related to the upcoming changes in the organization. These puzzles may represent various changes, such as new processes, communication strategies, or the desired end state.
As remote teams collaborate to unravel the mysteries and progress through the virtual escape room, they strengthen their problem-solving abilities and teamwork and better understand the change’s significance and its role in its success.
It’s an engaging and effective way to align employees with the change initiative while fostering a sense of unity among remote team members.
The benefits of change management exercises
Change management exercises have been important for many years. But perhaps they are now even more valuable than ever before. In 2023 research published in HBR, experts from Gartner issued a stark warning. They found that employees were struggling with all the changes they were going through in their workplaces – and they might be “losing patience” with change.
In this context, exercises and activities can be a very valuable tool. They can form part of a people-centric change management strategy that avoids “change fatigue.” They bring three specific benefits: employee engagement, collaborative working, and adaptability. With these qualities, change management exercises help employees acclimate to something new.
Increased Employee Engagement
Change management exercises can lead to increased employee engagement by involving staff in the change process, building trust through transparent communication, enabling skill development, and fostering collaboration, all of which make employees feel valued, confident, and committed to embracing and driving the desired changes within the organization.
Enhanced Team Collaboration
Change management exercises can enhance team collaboration by providing opportunities for employees to work together in a structured and supportive environment. These exercises encourage the sharing of ideas, problem-solving, and mutual support among team members, which not only helps them adapt to change more effectively but strengthens their overall teamwork and communication skills. As teams successfully navigate change, they develop a sense of unity and camaraderie that extends beyond the exercise, leading to improved collaboration in everyday work scenarios.
Improved Adaptability and Resilience
Change management exercises can improve adaptability and resilience by subjecting participants to various simulated change scenarios, encouraging them to explore innovative solutions, and learning to navigate uncertainty effectively. These exercises create a safe space for individuals and teams to experiment with different approaches, develop problem-solving skills, and become more agile in responding to unexpected challenges, ultimately enhancing their capacity to adapt and thrive in dynamic and ever-changing work environments.
Maximize your change management strategy with fun exercises
Change enablers know that there’s no perfect change strategy. Fun and games may seem like a strange change management activity, but they can impact hard-to-reach areas of company culture.
In the current climate, researchers from Gartner advise that trust and team cohesion are two of the most important qualities change leaders should encourage in their organizations.
To do this, exercises and activities are just one of the change management tools that experienced change practitioners use.