How to start strong leading a new team?
February 16, 2016 1:04 PM   Subscribe

Soon, I'll start managing a different team in the same company. What are some things I can do in the first days/weeks to make everyone feel great about this change and excited for what's coming in the future?

I already know all of the people, and they're really really good at what they do, but could use some passion and fire and enthusiasm...and it's up to me to bring that out. My sense is that they're not that crazy about their current manager, and in general I think they do pretty much like me, but I also know I'm going to want to make some changes that might be a little uncomfortable for them at first. I want to make sure I keep and build any goodwill I have going in, while at the same time making clear my expectations that I need people to be willing to step out of their comfort zones.
posted by ferociouskitty to Work & Money (12 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Even if you already know them, spend a good amount of time observing, asking questions, and listening before making changes. You'll have a much better chance of getting buy-in if the team believes that you care about and understand them, rather than just coming in and (seemingly) blindly imposing your way of doing things.
posted by primethyme at 1:30 PM on February 16, 2016 [13 favorites]

I agree with lots of listening and asking questions, and helping people feel invested in whatever changes end up happening. Like, if they get to have input on and help develop new procedures, they're going to have a lot more buy in than if you just say "This is the new way we're doing X." (Even if the new policy is identical in both cases!) I realize this might be a little touchy depending on why their old manager left (i.e. fired vs. promoted to a new position), but I think it can help to ask things like "what worked well/poorly with your old manager" to get a sense of what needs changing or does not.

I would also think about why the changes are going to make people feel uncomfortable. It's a lot different if it's "I want you to work an extra 10 hours a week you haven't been working" vs. a vague "Look more enthusiastic!" vs. "I want to change up the work flow to something that might seem like more work at first but ultimately will be more efficient." The first two are sort of shitty things to ask people. The last one is all about delivery -- if you explain the whys of the decision and what it's meant to accomplish and listen to/incorporate people's concerns, then I think it has the best chance of succeeding.
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:55 PM on February 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

A similar change is happening at my office and the new VP did two things: (1) had a full staff meeting where he re-introduced himself, his professional path, & his vision for the next few years; and (2) scheduled 1:1 meetings with everyone on the team. Ahead of the meetings he asked us to think about our current work, interests, & new skills we'd like to learn; and one thing each the dept. should start/stop/continue doing. Not all his plans will be painless but the vibe quickly changed from fear to enthusiasm, *nearly* universally.
posted by headnsouth at 2:08 PM on February 16, 2016 [21 favorites]

Absolutely start by listening - ideally schedule a meeting where you introduce yourself and then one on one meetings with each team member so they can talk to you directly.

Questions like: "What are you most looking for in a manager? What do you need from me to be able to really thrive and do well? What's the hardest/most frustrating part of your role? What's the best? What do you think I really need to know to help this team, that no one else may have told me?"

At the end of each meeting, say, "I know not everyone feels comfortable talking in a one on one meeting, especially with someone new, so if there's anything you think I should know that you didn't get a chance to say, you can always leave an anonymous note in my mailbox'
posted by Ausamor at 2:11 PM on February 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Good advice above that I would only tweak a little. Maybe couch your questions in terms of processes. Instead of asking "what didn't work with your old manager?" or "what do you need from me?" maybe make it less about the managers and more about the systems or procedures or processes. People might be more inclined to be honest and forthcoming if they don't feel like they are criticizing people. Ask "what procedures work? What parts don't? What processes would you change?"Professionals won't say "Bob was a demanding asshole and yelled at us when the clients were unhappy" but would be willing to say "The deadlines were unrealistic and clients felt mislead and unhappy."

Good luck!
posted by Beti at 3:01 PM on February 16, 2016

Forget starting with listening. It builds some opportunities but it can backfire if your changes create pitfalls in the group. I start out with master classes where first I lead and then I challenge people to come show me how it is done. It's a great way to get people talking, listening and sharing best practices and three group atmosphere is more likely to bring big tensions, things you might be able to win battles about, to your attention. Personal talks are good but should be used after the classes. It may help you understand faster where the last manager went wrong or where there is internal blockage to higher performance.
posted by parmanparman at 3:19 PM on February 16, 2016

Someone recommended here and I checked out from the library a book titled, The First 90 Days. Could't go wrong to check that one out and see if it has some good strategies for you.
posted by amanda at 4:05 PM on February 16, 2016

Be positive, always! Be responsive to requests (emails, general questions, pop-in meetings, etc.) And be energetic.

Make people feel important by giving them specific tasks and projects to do, if that's what they're looking for - I feel this distracts people from being negative, and everyone wants to be helpful.
posted by watrlily at 6:52 PM on February 16, 2016

- Realize that change freaks some people out and just let them have that. Acknowledging what you like about the team, what stays the same for sure and anything you can directly and overtly communicate about your plans - including what you're uncertain about - has a huge impact
- Realize that the people who are most enthusiastic about the change had issues with the old manager. And that you may also be unable to make happy. Get feedback about people's hopes and wishes for the team and make sure they feel responsibility to make those changes with you rather than something you'll just magically deliver. (In my one on ones, I position it as, "looking around the team and the company - bigger than your role, what opportunities are we missing? What do you wish we'd do differently?")
- Realize that people may feel like they've worked really hard and now have to start over with a new person to prove themselves to - or they may have had a bad management experience. Ease into feedback, but give it. Positive and neutral at first to work into it unless their are performance problems.
- Take one on one meetings with everyone to get to know them - their career goals, their accomplishments. Ask them what kind of manager motivates them - how you can make them more successful, productive, etc. Then actually try to modulate your style for them.
- If they don't have long term development plans already, at least have a career conversation and then try to tie projects, training, or plans to skills or experiences they need to get to their hoped 5-year-out goals
- Do an offsite or team thing - not a BS-y trust fall thing. But a chance for the team to work together on something - whether that's a workshop of the team vision/etc. or a Habitat for Humanity day. Pushing them outside of the expected like that sets the tone that you're going to do things differently and you'll literally asking the same of them.
- And then keep doing it long after your first 90 days are over. And be willing to learn, adjust, and make things better along the way,.

Normally when people feel like they're getting new opportunities and you actually care what they think and where they want to go, they get themselves excited and get over the culture shock. (Unless they're jerks. And if there's a jerk on your team, deal with it ASAP to set that tone, too.)

Good luck!
posted by Gucky at 9:17 PM on February 16, 2016

Don't go in all gung-ho and "fun." Don't change anything until you know why it is the way it is. Ask more questions and advice. If you think you want to change something, pose it as a "what if" first. You may end up changing it even if they hate the idea, but give them an honest chance to have opinions, and then sleep on them.

It's much easier to win them over if you don't expect it to happen right away and everyone at once. Observe and find out who the influencers are. The natural "cool kids" that seem to set the group's opinion. These may be, but are not necessarily, the senior-most people. Have the "this is my vision for the team, and I need your help" talk one-on-one. They can bring the group with them if they believe in your vision, and it's a lot easier for them to honestly do that when they're not "on stage" in the group setting when you pitch it.
posted by ctmf at 9:49 PM on February 16, 2016

The video is cheesy but I like how it simplifies the difference between a boss and a leader. A leader is part of the team, they develop talent, they ask what others want to try and give them tools to succeed.

The first few days are critical in setting the tone in how you position yourself. Meet the team individually; what are their pet projects? What do they want to try? Remember that pretty much everyone has ideas. Let them share those ideas and let their talent shine.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:07 AM on February 17, 2016

Two things:

First, was there a credible candidate for internal promotion to the role on the team? This person will either be your biggest ally (because he wants to improve his case to get a leadership promotion) or your biggest adversary (because he's angry he was passed over).

Second, and this is more lengthy, it is CRITICAL that you know your IN PRACTICE power and responsibility. Even if you have the exact same leadership title you had before, your power and responsibility may be very different based upon actual policies of your new boss, the way your new boss in practice does things, and the history and personalities of the team.

Some things you need to find out:

(1) What is your power / influence over positive personnel actions: raises, progressive transfers, promotions, bonuses, stock grants, approving vacations, leaves, external training, conferences, etc.

(2) What is your power / influence over negative actions: putting people on plan, punitive transfers, denying automatic raises, canceling vacations, demanding nights and weekends, firing people?

(3) How much will you control in-bound transfers and external hires onto the team?

(4) Are you expected to act as a buffer between your reports and your boss, or are they expected to work around you on a regular basis (or under certain circumstances?)

(5) What is your accountability for the budget -- in areas big (let's zero-base for fiscal 2018 so Joe will have to find a new job) or middling (if Joe stops over in New York for a day of meetings before he goes on to Frankfurt does he have to fly economy both legs when if he went from San Francisco to Frankfurt he could fly business?) or small (can Joe upgrade from 16GB to 32GB of RAM, the new thing he is doing is choking his current desktop).

(6) Do you have the power to reassign people's tasks and internal sub-leadership roles?

(7) Does your boss expect to be consulted on your exercise of your powers as noted above, or does he expect you to do it and tell him about afterwards in weekly or monthly check-ins?

(8) What are your individual contributor / "peer" function expectations? I have seen people do lateral transfers go from being absolutely expected by their VP and their reports to wear jeans and a t-shirt and spend much of their time on a personal project load and kibbitzing with their reports about their personal projects, to being absolutely expected to put on khakis and a pressed dress shirt, and spend all their time reviewing other people's work in their private office or talking with other managers or senior management and people outside the company in the conference suite or out at 2 hour lunches.

(9) One of the most delicate things of all: hours. Are you expected to be working when the team is working? Or is one of the privileges of leadership to have people work nights and weekends while you're at home? Or is one of the burdens of leadership that you are doing the nights and weekends while staff gets to punch out at 5 p.m. and turn their phones off Saturday and Sunday?
posted by MattD at 6:25 AM on February 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

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