As managers, we all at some point have to encounter inheriting an existing team, whether through getting hired at a new company or because a company reorg prompts it. Being the new boss in town is a cultural shift for the existing team and can present challenges if you get off to the wrong start. Here’s how to get it right.
From an employee’s perspective, change is never fun- even if it’s a change they agree with. It can create a sense of insecurity about the company and a lack of safety about where they stand. This emotional state is what makes coming in as the new leader a challenging hurdle. But done right, it can be a powerful and quick win. In fact, if done really well, it can actually make the team feel even stronger than before. Our jobs as leaders are to empower teams set them up for success, and, of course, drive results.
As a new manager, you were probably brought on to do a specific task for the company; the art is getting the team into the position to achieve those goals. Bridging the gap between the team and the company’s goals is the art of being a good leader. It all boils down to the 3 main components every leader needs to access right away: people, tools, and processes. Brace yourself, leaders, your first few weeks-months require getting your hands dirty and putting your learning hat on. You start first by listening and learning as much as possible.
Observe the Current Process
A big mistake a lot of managers make is to start making immediate changes without assessing the team’s goals, current process, talent, and any bottlenecks they currently have. It’s important to start by observing rather than immediately changing. Sure you can change things like how meetings are run to get the feedback faster but big changes will require buy-in from the team. Also keep in mind if you are replacing a previous manager they might not be as open to your feedback just yet, especially if the perception of the previous manager was overall positive. Understand how to read the room you are entering. Ensure you meet with each team member about what their expectations are for the team if they understand their goals and overall happiness in their role. Take those moments to get to know your team personally as well. Changes are tough on anyone and this is a good time to build trust.
During this observation process, the questions you should be asking yourself are:
- What are the goals of the team and are they meeting them? It’s important to be realistic with the status of the team. If they are not performing, understand why. If they are exceeding expectations, understand what else can be done to take it even further.
- Do we have the right people in the right roles to meet the company’s goals and needs? Part of building a great team is having the right people. Sometimes you may realize that in order to get the team where it needs to be it may require letting go of someone, changing someone’s roles, or bringing in new talent to really develop the culture.
- Is the team set up for success with proper processes and tools? Analyzing the tools and processes they currently use is important as well. If you are unable to measure someone’s productivity, that’s a problem. Every seat within an organization should be measured in some way. If you are unsure what someone on a team does or exactly how busy they are it will be difficult to properly evaluate them.
Map Out A Plan
Once you have a better understanding of the current state of your new team, you can start to map out a plan. The key is to work backwards from your goal. Ask yourself, what should the end picture look like? Break it into phases. Start small. You can’t – and won’t – be able to do everything at once, so start with just the most essential actions to get moving forward. It’s also beneficial to start small so you can stop to measure progress along the way and change quickly if needed.
While you map out a plan here are some key things to look out for:
- Ensure you have a way to measure progress from NPS scores, productivity, conversion, whatever it may be. It’s important for the team to align around a certain goal. Having the team see progress with data makes it easier to assess. It’s black and white something is not working.
- If part of your plan is to bring in new talent or make changes with your team, start working with HR or your Talent team. It’s essential they know what changes you plan to make on the team. A major culture signal in an organization is who you keep, who you let go, and how this happens. These changes always come with ripple effects, so make sure you have support and it’s done gracefully. Employees pay close attention to when these things happen.
- Consider new tools and/or getting rid of any not working. As a manager, you have to hold your own balance sheet. Any changes in tools you should see an impact in some way from a financial standpoint. Also make sure to do a fully competitive analysis on the best tools for your team. Just because you used a software at another company, doesn’t always mean it’s a fit for this one. No playbook is one size fits all.
So you have observed what is needed and mapped out a plan. It’s go time! All eyes are on you to make a successful launch. Communication is key and ensuring everyone knows what they need to do beforehand is helpful. It’s important at this point you already have buy-in for the time to make these changes, otherwise, you will have a challenging launch. During this time multiple check-ins are key. Show your team you are just as committed as they are to making it a success.
Here are some key points to watch out for a while you implement:
- Make sure everyone on the team is aware of the change and what is needed to implement. It’s good to set a kickoff call and some follow-up calls along the way. These should be different than your regular team meetings. With time you can reduce the check-ins if the launch is going smoothly. If your team has hiccups or challenges along the way, ensure they are addressed or resolved.
- Measure the progress along the way and celebrate them! If your team is working on something new this is a great way to come together and be proud of the accomplishments. Show the team the progress they are making to keep them motivated.
- Once you launch successfully, take that time to bond with your team. It’s a perfect time to have a team outing or a break from all the hard work you did together. It all shows your team that not only do you appreciate them for working on this launch but you can take a break to be human with them. Or even gift them some custom swag! Launches should be celebrated and it will make it easier to work on more future projects together if your team feels appreciated.
💡 Pro Tip: Check out some team building ideas
Whether you are inheriting a new team by moving to a new position or joining a new company, being consistent and over-communication is key. By building the trust of your new team, you will make it much easier to move forward together in the long term. And while these steps are a nice guide for what to do when this happens, they are also valuable skills you can use at every point of your role as a leader. Being a manager means you work in cycles of observing, mapping out plans, and implementing. These 3 phases never become irrelevant because as the business changes you have to constantly reassess what is happening. Observation is an ongoing skill you should have throughout your time as a manager. The more you listen and look out for what is needed, the better spot your team will be in.