Everyone talks about change. And everyone pretty much concurs, at least in conversation, that change is an on-going necessity. This is particularly so as an organisation grows or re-invents itself, is striving to stay competitive or keep its edge in the market. But the 'idea' of change has nothing to do with the reality of it. In fact, we go into a fight or flight mode such as shock, denial, resistance, discovery, acceptance, and approval when faced with change. What is critical to the process is to introduce certain kinds of change when people are mentally prepared to handle it. In other words, team-building does not work when staff are in resistance and their focus is ego-centred. In resistance, people are stuck in fear, generally fearing, among other things, they will lose their jobs. Chances are good that is also why an organisation will send its managers or other staff members away on a training course. However, although they may appear enthusiastic in the training room, they may not be pro-active back in the workplace. Why? Because they never took to heart the change as they were not in the appropriate psychological stage in order to do so. Or, they gave the appearance of embracing the change out of fear or pressure rather than it growing out of their own value system. So the most critical aspect to being an effective change agent is to understand change, recognise its states and stages, and develop relationships with your staff where you can help them through it. Radical changes include a long time line for people to shift into a new comfort zone. Also, different people have different tolerances for change. While someone may view added responsibility as a new challenge and opportunity to display his or her abilities, someone else will react with fear that they will not be able to handle the role or meet the boss' expectations. Therefore, depending on one's view, the same change can conjure up a positive or negative situation. A common misconception held by management is that people can manage the internal psychological transitions change brings. In fact, there are only a few who can do so. Most of us need help to get through the stages of change. As people move into acceptance they need to define a new role for themselves. While the war may have ended, there may not yet be the enthusiasm that embraces the new. People will begin to see possibilities but may feel overwhelmed and a certain sense of helplessness. The beginning of feeling in control is by taking small steps and being successful. Managing during acceptance involves providing structure and helping people overcome their helplessness. Now is a great time for training and team-building. Now is the time people are looking outward and to build new skills and relationships. Restate the organisation's vision in a way that helps your staff see how their role is a part of that vision. This is a critical point in the change cycle. Supporting people to find their own way will create a synergy and self-motivating team. Whereas trying to solve your team's problems will leave them helpless. As people find their new footing, energy and enthusiasm are natural by-products. The manager's task is to focus that energy into productive effort and goals. Many managers fear enthusiasm will get 'out of hand' or does not mean serious business. But excitement is cyclical, and a good manager learns to work with the rhythm of the energy and help provide structure and definable targets. Deborah O'Hara, managing director of Connective Management Ltd, designs programmes to help prepare people for change.