Leadership tips for taking over an existing team.

Stepping into another leaders shoes is never that easy, the team you inherit is not your own and the relationships that have been established, for good or for bad, do not include you. As a new leader you have a short window of opportunity to create a ‘fresh start feeling’ in the team and to help you make the most of this opportunity here are a few tips that will help you maximise this opportunity.

Tip # 1 – Help your team get to know you….

You may be anxious to make a good first impression and your team will be curious about you, so I suggest the first time you meet your new team you should focus on sating this curiosity and relieving any anxiety.  Resist the temptation of diving straight into the detail of the task and challenges that lie ahead and start with the relationships as they are the fuel that will propel the team forward.

GE developed a new leader assimilation process back in the early 70’s and I have used a simplified version of their process as it works and enables the team to quickly build effective working relationships with any new team leader. The steps in the process are pretty straight forward:

  1. Without the leader present ask the team a simple set of questions and give them time for personal reflection:
    • What don’t we know but would like to know about our new team leader?
    • What do we believe are the key challenges we are facing as a team in the near future?
    • What do we want most from our new team leader?
    • What does our new team leader need to know about this team?
    • What commitments are we willing to make to ensure our team succeeds and what commitments do we need from our new team leader?
  2. Collect the answers to these reflective questions on flipcharts around the room.
  3. Give the team a short break and bring the new leader into the room and let them look through the flip chart headlines.
  4. Bring the team back in and let the new leader talk to each flipchart and ask questions to improve their understanding of what the team have shared and asked.
  5. Finish the session with the development and commitment to a set of team principles that will govern how the team will work together in the future.

Tip # 2 – Get to know your team

You will want to get to know your team members to better understand what makes them tick and how to get the best from them going forward. Whatever challenges your team is facing they will appreciate some personal time with you in order to build a personal relationship and you should use this to ask them to share their hopes, aspiration and concerns. These conversations are best done in a one to one setting.

In a team situation I have used several exercises to do this over the years ranging from very informal team exercises such as the ‘Masks’ exercise, where each team member gets a flipchart and 5′ to bring to life the various masks they wear in life. For example I am a father, partner, brother, business owner, consultant, facilitator, leadership trainer, author, coach, speaker, dance teacher, badminton player, Newcastle United supporter, etc. Everyone gets 5′ to develop their flipchart and 5′ to bring it to life. It is amazing what you can learn about your colleagues with such a simple exercise!

There are of course more formal team profiling tools available that can give insights into team balance, preferences and give insights into how to play to your strengths as a team and how to compensate for any imbalance and or weaknesses. If you want any further information on the tools I use please contact me and I will be happy to discuss these with you.

Tip #3 – Learn from the past….

As a new leader you have permission to ask naïve questions about the past and to unearth the underlying assumptions, concerns and aspirations the team have regarding the way they are approaching the challenges they face. Develop a short list of thought provoking reflective questions to ask of your team about how they feel about the way the team has worked in the past, some questions to get you started include:

  • Where would you like this team to focus more and why do you think this will make a difference?
  • What is the greatest gap between our aspiration as a team and our current reality? Is this a ‘knowing’ or a ‘doing gap’ and why has it not been closed already? Has this gap always been present and if not what triggered it?
  • Do you feel you can voice concerns in this team and do you believe your voice is heard?
  • If you could change one thing about the way this team works what would you change and why?

Tip #4 – Get on with it….

Your honeymoon period will be shorter than you think so once you have spent some time on the above get focussed on delivering some quick wins and developing a plan of action. I find most teams are naturally task focussed so a shift to achievement focus may be needed. Here you can lift the team members heads out of the detail and develop together a set of ‘Milestones’ (goals with dates) that will govern success in the near and medium term. As a leader you should be ready to helicopter above the detail so you can see clearly the route ahead and be prepared to land only where you can add value and resist the temptation to get lost in the weeds.

If this is a challenge you face then please contact me and we can talk about how you can succeed.

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