When Coming from the Outside to Take Over Leadership of a New Team – Part 1

When you are the new manager taking over leadership of an existing team, you are coming into a whole scene with its own backstory. You are a new character: the outsider. Your new direct reports, on the other hand, are the insiders. They very likely have plenty of baggage with each other already.

You need to learn the nuts and bolts of your new job … 

The question on everybody’s mind right now is simple: Who the heck are you to be taking over their team?

As the new leader of an existing team, you are, in all likelihood, replacing a boss who has recently departed – by being either promoted or demoted – or who is altogether gone now, voluntarily or otherwise. In any case, you are filling somebody else’s shoes. Rest assured that some of your new employees will feel that absolutely nobody can fill the previous manager’s shoes. Others will feel their lot can only improve under new leadership. Others might have been internal candidates for the job and resentful that an outsider was brought in for the position instead.

and then start learning the nuts and bolts of the job of every one of your direct reports.

As the outsider, you’ve got to figure out who’s who on the team. Every employee comes to work with a different level of ability and skill. They come with different backgrounds, personalities, styles, ways of communicating, work habits, and motivations. Some of them need more guidance than others. They all already know each other, more or less.

And it’s not just your direct reports you’ll have to figure out, but also your own boss and any other managers at your level and above who have dealings with your team. You have a lot of new relationships to build.

Meanwhile, you’re going to be hot on the trail of figuring out what’s what. If you are new to the entire organization, you’ve got an extra layer of orientation and learning to do. In any event, you need to learn the nuts and bolts of your new job and then start learning the nuts and bolts of the job of every one of your direct reports. If you are also a new employee, you need to be welcomed, introduced, onboarded, oriented, and brought up to speed.

While your new employer likely offers a new hire orientation program, it is often sparse and inadequate, especially to get up to speed in a leadership role.

Start looking for resources from which you can start teaching yourself:

  • The organization’s big picture: its vision, mission, values, and culture
  • Where your team fits in the organization
  • Broad performance standards and workplace expectations
  • Company systems, practices, and procedures

Some of this may be covered in the formal orientation process. If so, get your hands-on documentation. The more documentation you can study, the better. Ask whoever did the orientation program for more learning resources. Ask HR, your new colleagues, your boss. As you are studying these resources, take good notes and formulate good questions.

Meanwhile, in all likelihood you were not hired solely to be a manager. You will have plenty of new tasks and responsibilities in addition to managing. And this is a new job for you. So you have some very job-specific learning to do too. Start with the current task and responsibilities being handled on your team. Which of these tasks and responsibilities will you specifically own? Find or ask for standard operating procedures, instructions, manuals, checklists, and answers to frequently asked questions.

You would learn all of this eventually in the course of doing the job, but if you want to accelerate your up-to-speed learning, get your hands on these resources as quickly as you can.