Changing Groups - Business Analysts and Change Management


Have you ever wondered why the behavior of your client or your teammate change depending on whether he is acting individually or within his/her group (e.g. team, department, etc.)? Have you ever noticed how people tend to do what others around them are doing, that is how group dynamics shapes individual choices and judgments noticeably or subtly?

In the first article of this series (change management for business analysts), I suggested a high-level framework for change management catering the needs of business analysis professionals, and then in the second post, I highlighted the most important considerations for change at individual level. In this third post, I will tackle change management at group-level. You would learn practical steps to perform group-level analysis, and to be aware of the most common group cognitive biases that might adversely affect your work. 

As a matter of fact, a business analyst would interact with a group of people in many different settings and contexts: e.g. the business analyst himself/herself is a member of a project team; client is not a solo individual but a whole department; the end outcome of the project (once delivered) would be utilized by a new ad-hoc group, to name a few. Subsequently this understanding would enable you to manage stakeholders more effectively.

The below points are not intended to be linear, as you can execute them in the order that best fit your way of working or thinking. 

1) Group vs. Team 

One of the very important thing to conduct during stakeholder’s analysis (among the other stakeholders analysis activities mentioned in BABoK) is to figure out whether the group -you are interacting with - is a team or a group. A group usually is well-established department or division that has clear boundaries, roles, and responsibility. Group tends to be: 1) relatively stable and less dynamic than a team, 2) has a strong sense of belonging, 3) has no accountabilities other than ‘contractual’ one, and 4) has clear reporting lines.

When you [the business analyst] communicate with a group, you have to take into account the above points during your interaction. Many of things that might be common sense for you about "How the world works" could be imperceptible for the group as they are usually deeply entrenched in their "business as usual".

On the other hand, the course of action could be different if you are engaging with a team. Teams are commonly established for a specified period to achieve particular outcomes. Teams lean to be more energetic than groups, and even chaotic.  With teams, It is advisable to remember these factors: 1) Team might reflect clearly or implicitly the functional silos within the organization. Having no clear reporting line can make things worse. 2) Team usually deal with a great deal of uncertainty, and this would increase the anxiety and probably the distrust among the team members. 3) Team members might struggle to balance their usual business (being employee in a department) with their newly assigned tasks (being part of a team). The actions that a business analyst can take depends on the team level of maturity as explained below. 

2) Keep Eye on the Team Maturity

One very popular group dynamics model is Tuckman Model. There is a lot of literature about it, so I will not elaborate on its details here for brevity sake. Nevertheless, a business analyst must be very conscious about the level of the team maturity and specify the list of activities that might be carried out to accelerate the maturation to the next level. Most probably, business analyst might not be the team leader. Still, she/he can be an influential change agent during the work of the team throughout all stages. Here are some examples:

  1. Forming: in this stage, you need to overemphasize the purpose of the team time and again. Furthermore, you would need to communicate extensively with the team leader to understand how she/he leads the team, and how the team members perceive her/him. You might help in establishing ground rules and in setting the boundaries. A very stark characteristic of this stage is the high level of dependency, where people will look for somebody to tell them what to do and how to do it. The best tactic to move through this hazy stage is for the business analyst and team leader to form a role model on how to get things done.
  2. Storming: Having passed through the phase of being nice to one another, team members would start now worrying about their individual concerns. It is the phase of grey areas, internal conflicts, inter-team conflicts, rumors, and authority struggles. No matter how bitter this stage might be, I recommend you to keep comforting yourself that this phase is natural, healthy, and even important. The business analyst must focus on this stage to put all people on the same page, to be the liaison among all team members, and to design the feedback mechanisms that enable team members to feel that their voices are heard and their concerns are listened to. Nothing worse here for a team member than to feel excluded. This is a guarantee for the project failure.
  3. Norming: It is the phase of “Settling down”. Here you might start focusing on the requirements elicitation and analysis. However, you will need to be cautious that you might experience teams that permanently move back and forth between the norming and storming stages, which is a clear signal that some team issues are not being surfaced and dealt with.
  4. Performing: It is the “Creativity” stage. Here most of the normal business analysis work would be done. Although this stage is the highest level that you aim to reach to, it does not come without its own perils. Team cohesion would spawn a plenty of biases as explained in next section. Team members can lose themselves in a sense of complete oneness, and too much focus on team cohesion can lead to forgetting the original task, which is the very reason for establishing the team in the first place.
  5. Mourning: “Good bye” stage. The team’s task has been completed and team members break up. “Lesson Learned” can be very valuable in this stage for you and for the team members.

As mentioned above, managing or leading a team might not be within your full control as BA (e.g. the client team); however paying attention to the above stages and the related dynamics can make your life easier.   

3) Be Aware of Group Mental Traps (i.e. Cognitive Biases)

Most planning methods (i.e. business analysis planning) assume that humans are logical and rational creatures, ignoring the emotional facets of how human think and behave. This is why we neglect considering (during the planning of during the execution) the countless number of mental traps (cognitive biases and logical fallacies) that usually originate within a group.

It is not practically viable to list all these biases; therefore, I will highlight two of them, which are the most common ones I frequently encounter in my work:

Groupthink : once the team becomes cohesive and feel as a one entity (i.e. reach the “Performing” stage), this ubiquitous bias would surface. In this case, the personal views would dissolve, arguments would disappear, and alternatives would be overlooked for the sake of one view. Loyalty to the group requires team members to avoid raising thorny issues or alternative solutions, so there is loss of individual creativity and independent thinking.  David McRaney suggested great intervention to alleviate the consequences of this bias that you can master: “Research says the situation can be avoided if the boss is not allowed to express his or her expectations, thus preventing the boss’s opinion from automatically becoming the opinion of others. In addition, if the group breaks into pairs every once in a while to discuss the issue at hand, a manageable level of dissent can be fostered. Even better, allow outsiders to offer their opinions periodically during the process, to keep people’s objectivity afloat. Finally, assign one person the role of [Devil’s advocate] and charge that person with the responsibility of finding fault in the plan. Before you come to a consensus, allow a cooling off period so emotions can return to normal. The research shows that groups of friends who allow members to disagree and still be friends are more likely to come to better decisions. So the next time you are in a group of people trying to reach consensus, be the [Devil’s advocate]. Every group needs one, and it might as well be you. ”

Bystander Effect: You wrongly assume that the larger the problem or the issue that you want to solve, the more people will rush to highlight it. In fact, the contrary is the true. The more people who witness a problem, the less likely it is that any one person in that group will raise it or mention it. Everyone in the group will think this way “I do not want to be the naysayer, but I’m sure someone will speak out”. As David McRaney said:” The findings suggest the fear of embarrassment plays into group dynamics. You see the smoke, but you don’t want to look like a fool, so you glance over at the other person to see what they are doing. The other person is thinking the same thing. Neither of you react, so neither of you becomes alarmedThis leads to pluralistic ignorance—a situation where everyone is thinking the same thing but believes he or she is the only person who thinks it. ” It is not an overkill to say that this is one of the most common fallacies that hinder the analysis work. After all, Unearthing problems is the bread and butter of business analysts.

4) Business Requirements and Personality Types

It is not a touch-feely to say that there is a direct correlation between the team personality types and the quality of requirements. When eliciting requirements from a bunch of people, we would naturally be tempted to communicate with the most extrovert one in the group. Extroverts love social interaction, and that might delude you to think that this person is the most knowledgeable one about the problem at hand. Some extroverts are superficial and overwhelming. Their role might be important to energize the team and move things ahead, but not to be the authentic source of information.

On the other hand, some members might look aloof and reserved, the so-called “introverts”. It is not wrong to assume that some introverts are deep thinkers and know much better about the problem, and the business in general. If you sense that you are in a similar situation, try hard to encourage this person to open up. They might provide you with a wealth of information. You can check my previous article to get some tips

If you are into understanding and analyzing a problem (i.e. as-is analysis), in this phase you need practical and pragmatic people who can give the details of the reality. Visionary people now might mix the status quo with the future, making it difficult for you to distinguish the reality from the imagination. However, visionary and creative people are very helpful during the solution design phase.

One word of caution here: Never use personality type (i.e. MBTIBelbin team-roles model, etc.) to label people. A human being is very complicated and evolving soul, nevertheless, you can use the types to discover the personal preferences in relevance to this or that very project.

To wrap up, when it comes to work within or with group ask yourself four main questions:

  • Is it a long-established team or a temporary team?
  • What is the maturity (i.e. developmental stage) of this team?
  • What are the cognitive biases inter-playing now?  
  • What are the personality types, and how are they affecting your work and the quality of the requirements?

Author: Zaher Alhaj Hussein, Consultant & Business Analyst

Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP®) 2010; TOGAF® 9 Certified, 2012; Prosci Change Management Certified, 2014; and Certified Business Intelligence Professional (CBIP®) 2014.


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zaherhh83 posted on Sunday, January 3, 2016 1:37 AM
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