When Coming from the Outside to Take Over Leadership of a New Team – Part 2

For the first part, click here

As a manager taking over a team that is new to you, the first step is to do all that you can on your own to learn about your role, the company culture, and where you fit into the organization. Your next step is to try to identify individuals who might be able to help you further accelerate your learning – internal experts, other managers, colleagues, and of course your own boss – who can provide a human voice to help you understand all you have been researching until now.

The most important factor in your onboarding and up-to-speed process is not 100 percent in your control.

Whether or not anybody has gone to the trouble to fill your schedule in your first several weeks with one-on-one sessions, you should pursue scheduled one-on-ones with every key player you can identify.

Go to every one-on-one with a clear learning agenda. Start with this open-ended question: “If you were in my shoes right now, what are the things you would want to know?” Your best line in these conversations is going to be something like: “Will you please tell me more about that?” Be sure to take lots of notes.

The most important factor in your onboarding and up-to-speed process is not 100 percent in your control. You need to work hard to get as much structured one-on-one time with your boss as you possibly can. At first, concentrate on what you are learning of the big picture, the work of your team, the broad performance standards, and companywide processes.

Discuss your notes and ask your questions. Over time, your one-on-ones with your boss will move on to your more specific tasks and responsibilities.

Of course, your first and foremost responsibility will be managing your new direct reports. From the outset, make perfectly clear to your manager how you intend to manage your direct reports. Explain that you are committed to being a strong, highly engaged manager. Explain that you plan to follow the best practices of the regular, ongoing, structured one-on-one dialogue.

Make clear that you intend to be rigorous about spelling out expectations, tracking performance, holding people accountable, and helping employees earn what they need through their performance. In the early stages of your new role, you might even encourage your boss to sit in on some of your one-on-one meetings in order to give your boss clear insight into how you are managing.

Everyone on your team is still going to be wondering: “Who are you?” “What are your plans?” “How will you manage?” And “What will it all mean for me?” You are the new boss, after all. You’ll have to have some sort of team meeting in order to introduce yourself.

Your new employees are bound to have lots of questions. You might have to devote a whole Q&A session to how your management style is going to work. It’s a very good idea to end that first team meeting by scheduling your first one-on-one with each direct report.

Your new employees are also likely to have as many answers as they have questions – strong opinions about what should change and what should stay the same. Because you are the outsider, new to everyone, it’s important to have a series of team meetings in the early stages of your new role as leader. You need a forum where you can say the same things to everybody in the same way at the same time, in which everybody can speak on the record in front of each other, hear each other and respond spontaneously. You need the light of public disclosure and discussion, at least for a little while. Depending on the group dynamics, more or less information may come out in a team meeting format.

My advice to new managers in this situation is to stage a series of brainstorming sessions around three questions:

  1. What should change about how our team operates?
  2. What should not change?
  3. If you were suddenly the team manager, what would be your first, second, and third priorities?

Beware, however, of letting these brainstorming sessions take on a life of their own and go unabated. After you’ve taken in everybody’s input, in short order, you want to make sure that you never lose the spirit or habit of constantly learning from everybody’s input.

But once the discussions start going round and round over the same ground, that’s your cue to make some decisions and pivot the group discussion to make it very clear: “Here’s what’s staying the same. Here’s what’s changing. The following will be our top priorities for the foreseeable future.”

Soon you will want to make the transition away from frequent team meetings, and towards ongoing one-on-ones. In the first few weeks you should meet often with every person. With this systematic approach, you will get up to speed in a matter of weeks and be in a position to provide at least some guidance and support right away.

Over time, your conversations will become more knowledgeable and your ability to give direction increasingly acute. You will be amazed at how quickly you can get yourself up to full operating capacity as a manager in this way.