How your old guard can join forces with new blood to navigate change

Article Chris Erickson 5m read

Change is challenging for every company, especially when it affects working relationships. Effectively managing an influx of recent arrivals and established staff is critical. And if you’re going through a moment of change, you likely have some new faces merging with existing teams. 

While this dynamic can be a recipe for growth, it poses ongoing opportunities for conflict. But, when handled properly, you can leverage the positive while mitigating the downsides. 

New blood and the old guard have their tendencies, preferences, and patterns. And understanding both can help you navigate your inflection point much more smoothly. Here’s what we’ve learned working with companies in a blended families phase.

How the old guard often operates.

Whether your established team has been with the company for a few years or a few decades, they are a part of the establishment. As such, they may be worried, frustrated, or resistant to change—no matter how promising the future might look.

Even the members of that same cohort who are genuinely excited about what’s happening will have some underlying anxiety about what’s in store. They have new colleagues, new bosses, new owners.

Regardless of their apprehensions, the old guard is a solid asset that can’t be overlooked. They have earned a wealth of experience and knowledge that can take your new arrivals years to acquire.

The old guard also tends to have strong internal and external working relationships—relationships they can leverage to get things done. And because they’ve been around a while, they have likely developed efficiencies and deep product, service, and customer knowledge. 

Because these folks are the very definition of institutional knowledge, they know a lot about the company, what’s been tried, and how to do things outside their job title. The old guard tends to be a stabilizing force during moments of change. And because they’ve been there for a while, they might be inclined to stick around despite the turbulence.

Nevertheless, the incumbent staff has some inherent limitations and liabilities in times of change. These are generalities and might not characterize some members of the old guard, but in broad strokes, here are some of their tendencies:

  • Typically not innovative. They think they know what works best and are reluctant to challenge how things are done.

  • Less exposure to new or progressive technologies, techniques, systems, and strategies

  • Can be defensive when faced with new ideas—“Here’s fives reason why that won’t work"

  • Might not be go-getters, and they prioritize the status quo over performance and growth

  • Their perspective can be confined to previous talking points, decks, visions, and strategies

  • Stereotypically older, more conventional worker with whatever baggage that entails

  • Often tied to outdated ways of working mindset (9 to 5, Monday through Friday, butts in seats)

These characteristics don’t cancel out the positives of the old guard. These team members are essential and bring a lot to the table. But it’s a vibe to consider.

What happens when new blood enters the chat?

Sometimes, though not always, the fresh faces are just that: younger, wide-eyed, enthusiastic, and ambitious. They are usually brought in strategically to fill a gap in the business. 

As such, they want to prove themselves, move up, grow, and advance. They’re new, so they aren’t tied to how things were done before.

Energized by the challenge and inspired to rethink how to tackle problems, they offer alternative views and deploy new tools within the business, including some that may be radically different.

Like the old guard, the new crew also has external relationships for you to tap into. Those include potential hires along with vendors, agencies, and manufacturers.

New blood is brought in at moments of change to help execute the shift. And they want to make an impact. They’re stoked to make things happen and open to using whatever resources are available, including new ways of thinking and doing (e.g., distributed workforces).

But, just as the old guard has some inclinations, new blood often:

  • Doesn’t know what they don’t know; their ideas and tactics may be overly optimistic or naive

  • Lacks range and has much to learn about the business, people, politics, and relationships

  • Presses for change too hard, too soon, or too far before establishing the relational capital

  • Hasn’t earned the respect that is required to change minds and deliver expected outcomes

  • Can be stereotypically younger and carry whatever baggage that may entail

  • Requires additional training time and takes longer on some tasks than the old guard

Again, these don’t negate the strengths that new blood brings. You simply have to appreciate how they will slot in.

How to make the most out of your blended family.

Notching wins as a changing team is an all-hands effort. New folks, old folks—they all need to be fully committed to making. Your CEO is ultimately accountable , but everybody is responsible.

Here’s how to get the most from your changing team:

  • Develop respect between members of the old guard and your new blood. Make sure things remain professional, never personal. Create opportunities for everyone to develop relationships.

  • Get everybody aligned on the big picture. It’s great to have a multifaceted team with differing strengths. But everyone must pull in the same direction .

  • Foster an environment where everybody feels valued. That requires empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of the other person. 

  • Break down walls. Eliminate barriers between people, locations, and divisions. Remove opportunities for “us” and “them” situations. Create purposeful, meaningful seating or working arrangements.

  • Eliminate secrets and enhance transparency. Establish a clear narrative and embrace it. Acknowledge there are changes underway. No pretending.

  • Normalize the sharing of information. Nobody should hoard knowledge. The old guard and new blood need to teach and learn from one another: book clubs, masterclasses, internal webinars, learning lunches, and mentorship/buddy programs.

  • Step up. The success or failure of this integration starts at the top, but it hinges on the active participation of everyone. 

  • Be explicit about your core, accidental, and aspirational values. Sharing the same foundational values and the behaviors they drive is far more critical than tenure.

When change is the game, this is how you win it.

Recognizing, accommodating, and embracing the strengths and weaknesses of both groups is essential. To learn more about how Parliament works with companies confronting this dynamic, we’d love to hear from you .