A team consisting of ten people. men and women of different ages. Things flowing as usual: targets reached, obstacles surfacing, potential conflicts, restored tranquillity, new goals are set…
Business is as usual, for the normal everyday life of a team in a company like many others. One day this “peace” is disrupted by unexpected news: the department head has resigned! Silence ripples out to the farthest desk. As in any other situation of this kind, what is called the grieving process in psychology begins to unfold each team member will undergo the following cycle for some time: denial (refusing to believe in the news), anger (raging over “abandonment”, assuming, of course, that the manager who leaves is loved and appreciated), negotiation (like a fantasy in which the deed is believed to be reversible when it isn’t), depression (let’s call it sadness or anxiety, for the term to not be so extreme) and finally acceptance.
After travelling this path of emotions, a question begins to subtly go around and round everyone’s head until it takes root forcefully to become the one topic of conversation during lunch breaks, in bathrooms, in corridors, every day at any time. “When will the new boss arrive … and what will he be like?”
The story running in parallel
Weeks ago, you accepted the invitation to participate in a recruitment process for a company you were truly keen to join. It was the challenge you thought you needed for that point in your career, “I need to take on a challenge of this scale, besides, I am prepared. This job will be mine.” That was what you thought as you advanced through each stage of the process.
As you become more familiar with the details of the sector you would be working in, the company culture and who would be your new boss, the position becomes even more interesting. That is the place where you want to be.
It’s Friday of an intense week, you get the call from the people management analyst of the company you were aspiring to. Good news. You have reached the final interview. It’s the CEO who now wants to meet you. The job you will fill is key to the company. No one in the organization wants to risk making a bad decision that could affect the anticipated results. The meeting will be on Monday at 8:00 a.m.
The two stories meet
You don’t know it yet, but in that interview with the company’s CEO, you’ll end up convinced that you want to be part of the team. He will tell you about the culture he wants to implement in the company, about the expansion plans and the role you would take on. He will tell you that the previous department head left the company for personal reasons. He will tell you that the team is a good bunch but that none of them have the right experience for this role. He will explain to you that one of your challenges will be to train new leaders.
All this will make you feel challenged and excited and no doubt you will want to join and be the leader that the team needs.
More good news, You will be the one chosen for the job. You will join in barely three weeks. You will be the leader of that team of ten people. Yes, of those men and women of different ages. You will trust your abilities and the experience you gained in all the previous years. It is good that you feel confident, that will be the basis of your management, but … it is a solid pre-existing team, so all that experience might not be enough.
7 keys for you as a new leader to successfully manage a pre-existing team
- Get to know your team. The first weeks (and even the first months) will be essential for you to achieve two equally important things: to first get to know the business and your team. Second, it is advisable to schedule individual meetings in which each one can let you know about their personal background and record in the company, what expectations they had and have in the company, to tell you what they consider to be their strongest strengths and areas of knowledge (important so you know who to turn to for each matter and process), as well as to knowing what they expect from you as a new leader.
- Don’t be stingy with your time for this. It is crucial that you do this over the first few days. Remember that the goal isn’t to project an image of proximity, but to truly be approachable and friendly. They need it, and so do you. Maybe you more than them.
Listen to opinions, but don’t take them as verdicts. It is recommended that you ask your boss (or bosses) and colleagues for their opinions on the team’s performance and situation. When you do, you will surely come across three kinds of opinions: highly favourable ones, the most objective ones that distinguish between good things and things to improve, and the most negative ones voiced by those who cannot see any merit in what the team has been doing. Possibly these same stances are transposed to specific people.
Listen carefully. It’s good to be receptive to opinions but be cautious especially with the ones that sound like verdicts. Take them with a grain of salt, especially those which you suspect to be personal and emotionally charged. Don’t take them literally and give yourself enough time to find out and interpret the global and individual reality of your new team.
- Trust and empower. This is inevitable, because currently your new team knows the organization’s business, processes and culture better than you do. Are they perfect? Certainly not and they are improvable, but the onset of your managerial mandate is not the time for implementing changes, but instead to get to know, trust and manifest that trust in each member. Each one of them (junior to senior) needs to know with absolute clarity that you trust him. Don’t assume that they will be aware of your trust in them. Meet them and say it openly. In your individual meetings, tell them too. It shouldn’t be hard to do because it’s the truth. They know things that you still don’t know.
Create and give them confidence, help them to believe in their abilities.
- Re-evaluate needs, re-structure sensibly. You are the new Team Manager. Probably your boss has trusts you enough to restructure or implement the changes you think are appropriate. Remember: great power entails great responsibility. You may be tempted to now hire the people with whom you worked so well before in other companies. You have the authority to do so, but don’t do it—not for now at least. You are getting to know your team gradually, you have received opinions on them, your personal judgment will just begin to form. Until you can: issue an objective opinion, to point out the opportunities for improvement, to guide and help close these gaps, to re-evaluate internal changes, to re-structure—it isn’t fair to make drastic changes such as dismissals or job changes.
Remember that the current reality of your team is expected to improve as a result of your management. Changing team members like pawns in a game would be seemingly straightforward, but not ethical nor fair. Moreover, it would severely penalize you against other members. Don’t forget that.
- Provide support and defend the team. You know that being the manager or the new team leader transcends the job title. At the end of each group meeting, after each individual session, and relentlessly throughout your management ask the magic question, “How can I help you?” This is a very powerful question that opens communication channels outside task delegation. You have more experience than your team and a series of qualities that have led you to the position you now hold, so this is the moment to put them at the service of anyone who needs it. Some need guidance, others need an idea approved, yet others need you to teach them how to do something from scratch. This is where your added value comes in.
Just as important is the following: don’t be sucked into the game of whoever “attacks” the team. There may be very harsh opinions pointing out group or individual deficiencies but remember that your duty is to protect the team. Protecting isn’t covering up, instead it is about looking after your team’s reputation, of securing the trust of the people you lead and their results.
Caring for the team means taking care of yourself.
- Be consistent. The first day you met your team, you presented yourself enthusiastically and certainly you would have relayed a series of expectations. Now is the time to be consistent with what you said. Nothing subtracts more credibility than inconsistency.
If you say, for example, that fairness guides your work, apply it in the most complex and the simplest decisions. Your team, your teammates and your bosses will notice your consistency especially in the simplest decisions.
- Be humble, mimic and avoid mimicking. You have come to fill this job, as a result of many years of work, study, and certainly many hours of effort and some sacrifices. You deserve it. May you not be invaded by pride and arrogance. Remember that you have come to the beginning of a new path, not the end. You will continue to learn and need others as you did eight, ten, or twelve years ago. Now, however, you have a dual responsibility, to guide and develop others. It is a very beautiful, challenging, and rewarding challenge if you take it on humbly.
Do you remember the moment you said: “How great is my boss, how nice it’s to work at his side!”? Mimic that. Do you remember when you thought: “He can’t be my boss!”, “Why does he behave that way?”, or “I would leave just not to have to work at his side!” Take precise note of that and don’t repeat it.
This is your moment.