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Change Management Exercises & Activities

Several weeks ago, I asked the folks in our new Trainers Community, “What’s your greatest professional challenge?” From the dozens of replies, a single theme emerged: CHANGE. I suppose this won’t come as a surprise to anyone. The training industry has changed as profoundly as everything else the pandemic touched. Our colleagues are starting new positions, reinventing curricula, and adapting to online/virtual formats. With all the upheaval, change management exercises and activities couldn’t be more in demand.

By nature, change comes in multiple dimensions and has many faces. But no matter what the change is, a myriad of emotions—both negative and positive—follow. Excitement, anticipation, and hope, as well as fear, loss, and angst.

A range of Change Management Activities can help participants:

  • Articulate fear of change
  • Understand different approaches to change
  • Manage resistance to change
  • Identify opportunities for change
  • Develop new skills
  • Develop plans for future action

I’ve curated these favorite Change Management activities and tools from subject matter experts far and wide, including consultants, therapists, practitioners, bloggers, and consultants and sorted them into a handful of categories:

  1. Defining Discomfort
  2. Metaphor Toolkits
  3. Simulation Games
  4. Change Management Conversation Starters
  5. Meaningful Words & Images

1. Defining Discomforts

Trading Places

This may sound like a simple exercise, but people quickly become accustomed to their seat selection and choose the same seat each time they enter a room. If not the same chair, perhaps they tend toward a right or left side, or gravitate to familiar faces. After your group has gotten settled, ask them to stand up and find a different seat, with different tablemates. Debrief the activity by exploring what created discomfort; what they see differently from their new vantage point; how the simple experience of changing seats mirrors the challenge of deeper life changes.

Force Fields

  • Choose an upcoming change to evaluate and write it up on a whiteboard.
    • Below and to the left, write the header: Forces FOR change
    • Below and to the right, right the header: Forces AGAINST change
    • Have your identify specific pros and cons, as they consider the pending change.
    • Analyze ways to mitigate the negatives and strengthen the positives.

Arm Cross Switcharoo

Ask the group to comfortably cross their arms. Next, ask them to do it the other way. Quickly, they realize that doing something differently feels very strange at first, but the longer they do it, the less foreign it feels.

Crossed + Uncrossed

Crossing your arms non-verbally communicates hesitance and reluctance. When groups are facing a change together, gauge their feelings about different aspects of the transition. As you articulate a variety of statements about an upcoming change, ask them to indicate their feelings about crossed and uncrossed arms. You can quickly gauge the group and discuss the aspects causing the most consternation.

2. Metaphor Toolkits

Square Wheels SituationsChange is such a common challenge for leaders and managers, that several consultants have created toolkits to help companies implement organizational change. These rubrics are helpful across a range of changes and transitions.

Square Wheels

The simple Square Wheels cartoon leads people to consider whether and how the image reflects the way organizations often work. Through the analysis, they look for opportunities for improvement in situations or processes.

Who Moved My Cheese

This is a parable of two mice who are faced with a looming issue—soon they will be out of cheese. What will they do? One is paralyzed by fear; the other explores the maze looking for a new source of cheese. The Who Moved My Cheese book and accompanying articles lead groups to consider how they face change.

3. Simulation Games

All Change, by Northgate

The All Change change management training activity sets up a simple situation: an organization, spread across two sites in the city is about to move to a single site, outside the city. The move will cause disruption in a number of ways. For some staff, it will mean a longer commute, for all it will mean moving from a city-base to a rural environment. The computer systems to be installed at the new location is familiar to staff in one of the two sites, but not the other. More staff are to be recruited and some job roles will change. The changeover is due to take place in one year’s time. Faced with this situation teams are asked a crucial question: What major considerations and challenges can you identify for a smooth and seamless transition to the new site – and exactly how would this work?

Introducing Change™, by Northgate

  • In part one of the Introducing Change simulation, participants working individually, complete a Change Questionnaire for discussion in plenary session with the Trainer. It serves to focuses attention on change issues and bring any prejudices and mistaken ideas out into the open.
  • In part two participants, as management teams, have specific changes to implement in their organization. How will they introduce change to staff, what and who will they take into account, how will they schedule the changes? They must identify the key factors in bringing about a smooth implementation and decide on the best way of communicating with staff. At the end of the task, teams present their ideas and plans, either in feedback sessions or, more dynamically, by presenting the changes as if addressing their target audience.

Change Reaction Assessment & Workshop by HRDQ

Change Reaction is an assessment tool managers and team leaders use to understand individuals’ personal reactions to change. The instrument consists of 24-questions, designed to illuminate typical responses to change and ways to manage effectively change.

4. Change Management Conversation Starters

Sometimes people just need to talk. Having a handful of well-conceived discussion prompts can help those facing change to articulate

Onward & Upward Thumball

  • The focus of the Onward and Upward Thumball is resilience – moving beyond current challenges, toward future opportunities. For anyone going through a change in their life, the challenge is often to move beyond the past experience toward an unknown future. This ball includes 32 conversation prompts, which can be used for teams or individuals experiencing change, such as:
    • Who do you turn to, when the going gets tough?
    • One way I could stay healthy is to…
    • Person/people I’d like to connect with
    • During what activities do you lose track of time?
    • My most important relationships
    • The “silver lining” of a challenging time
    • You can depend on someone like me to …
    • Where do you find spiritual strength?
    • “Rules/norms” I’d like to do away with
    • The hardest thing about trying something new

Happiness at Work Thumball

  • The Get Happy at Work Thumball discussion prompts help create a more positive workplace by allowing colleagues to share goals, discuss challenges, and build relationships. During times of change, focusing on topics such as Positive Emotion, Engagement, Meaning, Accomplishments, and Relationships, is critical to building new relationships. The 32 prompts on this ball include:
    • My biggest work challenge right now and how I’m addressing it
    • A good thing I accomplished last week
    • A recent experience that led to my greatest learning
    • The work that’s most meaningful to me
    • What are your personal and professional goals?
    • A new challenge I hope to take on at work?
    • My top priorities for the day/week
    • How have you progressed toward a current goal?
    • What risk would you take if you knew you couldn’t fail?

C = DVF > R

Todd Wilmore shared this tip on LinkedIN as a way to help us see when it’s time to bite the bullet and have those tough conversations. “I learned this formula from Dave Gleicher and it was later popularized by Dick Beckhard (Beckhard & Harris, 1987). It may be a way to introduce the need to communicate without forcing the issue.Begin by sharing the formula above on a flip chart or power point. Ask them if they know what it means and if they understand the algebraic term (> means greater than) Explain each part one at a time. If the formula is not balance properly, the initiative will fail or be less effective.”


C = Desired Change – In your case, strategic initiative
D = Dissatisfaction – If teams are satisfied with the current situation they will be less likely to change.
V = Vision of the Future – You have to have a team that is passionate and committed. Help them see the future
F = Needed First Step – (and next step and next step …)

R = Resistance to Change – There are always barriers, excuses, limiters, a natural resistance to learn new ways and change. Identify them by asking and leverage them.

In other words, change happens only if Dissatisfaction, Vision for the Future, and First Steps are GREATER THAN Resistance to Change. DVF together still may not be enough to make change happen if the R is too great. At the end, have them choose one initiative and discuss each part of the formula and how well they have made efforts to balance the formula to succeed.  ~ Todd Wilmore

I appreciate Todd’s contribution and perspective. The mathmetician in me wonders if were to to give Dissatisfaction, Vision, First Steps, and Resistance numerical values, if we would need to sum D + V + F, or multiply their value, D x V x F. I’m gonna go with addition, but welcome others input!

Recognizing Change, Trainer Bubble

  • In Quick Change activity, you will arrange participants into pairs and ask them to face each other. Then ask them to take a good look at the person in front of them and memorise what that person is wearing. Next, ask them to face away from each other and change five things about themselves (typically people remove an item). After they have done this, ask the pairs to turn and face each other again and identify what has changed about their partner.Review – in review, ask participants how easy it was to make changes. The important thing to note is that most people associate ‘change’ as removal or loss of things. How many people actually added something to change their appearance? In life, we tend to associate change with loss. However, the reality is that change can also include gain.Your group may also find that larger changes are much more disruptive than small ones.

5. Meaningful Words and Images

Quotations about Change

Photographic images

  • Decks of images are incredibly powerful to help participants articulate their feelings. Have each person locate an image that reflects their current feeling. Have them share their selection with one person or the group at their table. Rather than putting one person on the spot, by asking them to share their selection, ask the group to summarize the range of feelings.

Beyond Change Management Activities and Exercises

In addition to the range of Change Management tools that help managers, team leaders, and trainers develop the skills necessary to implement change effectively, we invite you to explore this set of Coaching Tools. Coaching card decks, conversation prompts, and exercises can help individuals and teams “grow.”  To hone in on your GOALS and vision of success,  understand the REALITY of current challenges, explore and prioritize OPTIONS, and Discover WAYS FORWARD.

3 thoughts on “Change Management Exercises & Activities”

  1. lbtc says:

    I could not refrain from commenting. Found this really interesting, thanks for sharing! Exceptionally well written on change management topic. We will be linking to this great content on our website. Keep up the good writing.

    1. Susan Landay says:

      Thank you! Appreciate your sharing, as well. ~ Sue

  2. MJ Murray Vachon says:

    This is superb! Thanks!

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