Your promotion to leading a new team or function is simultaneously exciting and just a little bit nerve-wracking. The great news is that your boss has faith in your abilities and is betting her credibility that you’re the right person for the job. The butterflies-in-the-stomach part comes from knowing you’ve got a whole new set of challenges, including establishing yourself as a credible leader in the eyes of your team members.
By setting aside fears or excitement and instead focusing on some basic strategies, chances for success will be greatly improved.
Spend time with your manager reviewing your team's needs and expectations. Ask:
- How does this team fit with the firm’s overall strategy and key goals?
- How is the team’s performance evaluated, and what do recent measures/evaluations say about how the team has performed?
- Where are the strengths of the group?
- What are the perceived weaknesses?
- What are your manager’s expectations for you in this new role?
- What are the three most important things you can do to support your manager's agenda during your first quarter?
- How deep is the talent on the team? Where are the gaps?
Engaging With Peers
Once your promotion has been made public, do your homework and solicit input from your new peers across the organization. Ask for their perspective on your team’s performance, strengths, and gaps. Focus on the interaction points between the groups and ask them to identify strengths and areas for improvement. Take great notes and strive to identify opportunities for early victories. It's important to have your peers on your side.
Making It About Them
Too often, new managers step into a role and make a poor first impression by waxing poetically or nauseatingly about their own backgrounds and achievements. Resist the urge to make yourself the focal point. After a brief introduction, ask questions designed to help you better understand the team’s culture:
- What are you proud of that this group does particularly well?
- What have been the major accomplishments over the last year?
- What are the current goals of the team?
- What are the activities you would like to pursue that you haven’t found the time for?
This takes a bit of courage, but the feedback you gain will say a lot about your team's situation and needs. Ask: “At the end of my time as manager of this group, what will you say that I did?” It's a good question that will help your team members focus on identifying developmental and organizational needs. Listen and take notes without commenting or judging.
Pre-publish this simple agenda outlining just 3 questions:
- What’s working?
- What’s not?
- What do you need me to do to help you succeed at your job?
Ideally, conduct the meetings face-to-face. However, telephone or video conferencing work great for your remote colleagues. Take notes, strive to identify and offer immediate help with tactical problems such as not having the proper tools.
Remember to ensure anonymity. These meetings offer great opportunities to hear from team members and to get to know them, and learn about their ideas, interests, and needs. They also offer you and the group ideas on opportunities to collaborate in pursuit of early improvements and needed changes.
As part of your early assessment, review the existence of regular status or operations meetings. If there are regular, timely scheduled sessions, consider sitting in and listening. If the prior manager ran these sessions, rotate the meeting leadership among team members. Once you have a feeling for the effectiveness of the operating routine, you can make adjustments. Unless the team is in crisis, there’s nothing to be gained by immediately asserting your own agenda. Of course, if there is no regular routine, you have ample opportunity to create. Ask your team members for input.
As for your communications protocol, let your team members know how to reach you. Help them to understand your desired level of involvement. Develop a sense of their communication needs—some individuals prefer daily or frequent interaction and others prefer to engage with their manager infrequently or when guidance is required. Be flexible and adapt to their needs.
Work with team members to refresh group and individual goals during the first 30 to 45 days. If the team is in a crisis or turnaround situation, accelerate this timetable.
The Bottom Line
The point in time when you assume responsibility for a new team should be a period rich in relationship building and collaboration. Resist the urge to assert that you’re the “new sheriff in town,” and use questions to gain context on talent, operations, and opportunities. You need your team’s help to succeed and the right way to start out is by making all of your team members a valuable part of the process. You’ll have ample time to make changes as you gain context and credibility. In the beginning, it's a good practice to observe and ask without judging.