Building a CM team: All you need to know about people and structure(s).

19 August 2020

A winning team, four different structures.

author picture Article written by Morten Kamp Andersen

You are responsible for building a Change Management (CM) team. Two questions pop into your mind. First, who should you choose? Second, how to structure the team? You will not be the only one to ask how to go about these tasks. And even if there is no right or wrong, we do know what might work best. Here are some key points to consider[1].

Choose the best people

Let us focus on the most important element first: the people. That way, we will remain true to the core principle of CM. People are the core constituents of change. You obviously want the best to spearhead the next big move. Which attributes do great CM team members typically have in common? What should you pay attention to? According to research conducted by PROSCI, the topmost sought-after skills are the following:

Communication: this one is straightforward. The ability to communicate with anyone in the organisation, top to bottom, verbally or in written form, is key. So is the ability to listen, receive feedback and follow up on recommendations.

CM competency: dealing with change requires a structured approach. Your future team will benefit from the guidance of an expert in CM methods, resistance management and coaching.

Flexibility: a CM practitioner must walk the talk during times of change. Be on the lookout for someone who stands out because of her/his open mind, is flexible, resilient and creative enough to derive solutions from available resources.

Interpersonal skills: Change Management is primarily a matter of assisting and optimising individual transitions. CM experts are also people-oriented facilitators. They must, therefore, be able to establish trust and demonstrate respect for others.

Consider these 4 different possible structures

We cannot stress enough the importance of an early and sustained dialog between Change Management and Project Management. The CM team structure should be optimised for collaboration, information and resource sharing. The CM structure was a deliberate choice for about a third of the organisations that took part in PROSCI´s research (2013) and for an ever-growing number of them, posterior data show. Others (roughly 25%) had to work with “a team that was given to them” or build something with available resources (call that the “default option”). Sometimes, and in limited cases, it was an organisational standard team structure.

Consider the following 4 different options (see graph by PROSCI below). You should weigh them against how well they fit your own contextual constraints: 

Structure A: CM resources are sometimes found within the Project team. It is generally because the implementation of change activities has been entrusted to a manager, collaborator or key player, who also belongs to the Project team.

Structure B: in this second configuration, CM and PM appear to be two different entities working in synergy. In other words, CM resources support the Project Management team externally.

Structure C: this is a mixed setting. Some CM resources sit with the PM team, but they are piloted by an external CM team.

Structure D: in this case, CM and PM are fused from the top. The CM expert is also the project manager in charge of developing the project and driving change policies.


Of course, each structure has its advantages. Some degree of integration between PM and CM resources allows for intensive collaboration and effective planning. Advantages of CM as a stand-alone unit, on the other hand, include objectivity, higher specialisation and improved interactions with sponsorship when not mediated by a project team member. Now, you might ask which structures are the most prevalent. Most common setups are A – close to a third of the organisations surveyed - and D. The most effective ones, however, reflect the following organisational logic: neither complete fusion nor separation. In short, the best-rated structures for maximum results are A and C.

The disjunction between prevalence and reported efficiency is certainly quite striking. Read on if you wish to explore the pros and cons of either creating a CM structure that somehow sits with PM or, conversely, one that stands on its own. Our partner PROSCI (2018) has identified some important points to ponder[2].

Archetypal structure 1: When the CM team sits with PM

Early dialog fosters better collaboration … Deeper integration between CM and PM makes it easier to deal with setbacks and adjust plans on the go. Responsiveness is clearly an argument in favour of a fully integrated team.

... and more effective planning. The project team provides direct data feeds which inform CM plans from the very beginning. The early dialog between CM and PM allows CM solutions to be easily adapted to the specific features of the context and characteristics of the project (size and risks). 

Communication is smoother. The flow of information between those in charge of the technical side of change (PM), and those responsible for the people side (CM) of change, can be greatly improved in an integrated setting. Staff morale will be that much stronger.

Decisions are made closer to the impacted groups (stakeholders). Driving and adoption and managing resistance require sustained efforts and a sense of timing.  Staff “readiness” is key. It is certainly easier to measure this variable when there is direct access to impacted leaders and employees. From training delivery to implementation, the fusion of CM and PM into a single structure facilitates user-centric approaches.

It gives project management a big boost. Projects are deployed more quickly, adopted more extensively, and implemented more efficiently with a CM manager sitting on the PM team. The promise of a better allocation of time and resources sets project management up for success.

Risks are kept in check. CM managers help reduce risks by providing contextual insights, including organisational culture and history. Proactively managing resistances play a big part in ensuring that the project stays on schedule and on budget.

Archetypal structure 2: When CM stands alone

At the other end of the spectrum, CM as a stand-alone unit also brings valuable benefits. A dedicated group or entity offers a clear touch point. Yet, the distance from the locus of action can be a double-edge sword.

Neutrality and credibility as major strengths. CM, as an external entity, ensures the objectivity and impartiality of the team when giving feedback, tracking progress and assessing adoption and usage rates.

It helps keep the focus on CM milestones … and prevent those responsible for CM from getting caught up in the daily “project” grind. Clarity of purpose is somewhat easier to attain and maintain when autonomy and independence are guaranteed.

It ensures unfiltered communication between sponsorship and CM. Quite simply, it gets rid of an intermediary - and one of major influence at that: the project manager. Managing sponsors proves to be more effective when not channeled through the PM team. Remember that sponsorship is the number one success factor of any change initiative. 

Portfolio management is optimised. With multiple projects running parallel, resource allocation is everything. An independent structure allows for more flexibility, thereby helping with cost reduction and time management.

Each unit its own task. The PM and CM teams can better focus on their core mission: designing and developing the solution, on the one hand, and boosting adoption and ensure proficient usage, on the other.

Stakeholders get external support. Research into structures and CM outcomes show that the project is granted additional support in the form of tools and further guidance.

Weaknesses inherent to this setup derive from the distance - and arguably, disconnect - between the project and CM resources. The project manager and his/her CM counterpart might struggle to keep in sync with each other. Highly complex projects also make it harder to use Change Management resources in an adequate and efficient way.


Some organisations still report not having any dedicated team or formal resource whatsoever. Simply put, everyone is responsible for the change, yet no one is. This is not an option if building a change-ready organisation is what you ultimately strive for. While each structure yields different benefits, choosing one over the other is a matter of prioritisation.


[1] Article based on data provided by PROSCI (2018), Best practices in Change Management.

[2] Section based on PROSCI (2018), Best Practices in Change Management.

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