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How to Lead a Team You Inherit

Jixee-Blog-LeadersHow to gain the trust and respect of strangers who might not like having a new boss.

An unfortunate truth about management is that people hate change. Whether in business protocols or in senior management, employees are naturally wary of anything new or different in their work environment. This truth is a particular burden for growing companies because in the vast majority of cases, change and evolution are highly beneficial and even essential to company health.

Of all the corporate level changes an organization can undergo, the onboarding of a new team manager can be especially overwhelming. Even if the employees didn’t like their previous manager, they are going to be nervous. Some may even fear losing their jobs. That’s why as the new leader of an existing team, it’s important to approach the transition process with great care and sensitivity. The more you can make your new employees part of the changes that you want to implement, the more cooperation you’ll get.

Here are six questions you can ask on how to lead a team you inherit:

What Circumstances Prompted the Change in Leadership?

There are several situations that could prompt new team leadership. Are you being promoted to lead your former peers? Or brought in from the outside to propel growth? Maybe you’re even taking the reigns from someone who will remain with the company in a different capacity? The particular circumstance leading to the transition can have a significant impact on your experience, so you’ll want to tailor your approach according to those needs. For example, if you’re taking the place of a beloved former manager, be sure to acknowledge that the person was loved and well respected, and that you have no intention of filling his or her shoes. But if, on the other hand, you’ve been charged with recovering a department where employees have suffered under poor management, earning their trust will require a different kind of finesse.  Personnel changes are in many ways a grieving process for employees, so be sensitive and act accordingly.

What Are the Existing Team Dynamics?

Every team has certain existing dynamics that can’t always be found on paper. Sometimes a certain strategy is handled differently in practice than in the protocol. Some team members will expect to always work together. You may even have a few team members with clashing personalities who are better off left in their own corners. These intricacies won’t be available in writing or obvious to an outsider, so take the time to ask questions and observe patterns. The subtleties of how your team works most effectively together will be valuable information to have going forward.

Who Are the Institutional Leaders?

As you enter a new organization, there will be members of the team who have institutional authority regardless of their title or position. Whether it’s the administrative assistant who has been there since the beginning or the project manager who just knows everything that’s happening in the company, these individuals are usually well respected—so it’s important to acknowledge what they contribute. Ask your new team, who is the go-to person if something goes wrong? If you can get that person on your side, the rest of the group will follow.

How Will You Establish Trust Between Yourself and the Team?

Jixee-Blog-TrustAsking for opinions (even if you don’t agree with or use them all) will create trust. Your new employees know change is coming, but if you start with the positive common ground, they’ll accept the new procedures with less resistance.

Depending on the size of the group you’re leading, try to meet with each team member or at least the team supervisors to understand what past protocols have been. What is working? What isn’t? By giving your employees the platform to brainstorm what departmental procedures they’d like to see start, stop or continue within the team, you’ll allow changes to be their idea instead of your own.

What is Already Working?

In the beginning, take significant time to sit in on meetings and be a sponge to the goings on of your new team. But don’t just look for places where change is needed—also take the time to notice and acknowledge what is working well. By sharing with employees what they are already doing right, you’ll pave the way for more open-minded reactions to your suggestions as to how to make processes even better.

How Will You Implement Changes?

Once you’ve taken ample time to study the existing dynamics, recognize what’s working and notice areas with potential for growth, it’s appropriate and expected to begin implementing changes. After all, that’s likely why you’ve come onboard in the first place. But by recognizing and making use of ideas from our team, acknowledging successes and focusing on the organization’s vision, you’ll create fantastic momentum to launch your team forward into new and improved workflows.

[Featured Image Courtesy of Beverly and Pack]

[Second Image Courtesy of Neal Sanche]