8 Tips for Getting Started Successfully with Your New Team

Your promotion to leading a new team or function is simultaneously exciting and just a little bit nerve-wracking. The great news is that your boss has faith in your abilities and is betting her credibility that you’re the right person for the job. The butterflies-in-the-stomach part comes from you knowing that you’ve got a whole new set of challenges,

including establishing yourself as a credible leader in the eyes of your team members. Here are 8 ideas to help ease your anxiety and support your early efforts with your new team.

8 Tips to Help You Get Started Successfully with Your New Team:

1. Do your homework ahead of your start date. Spend time with your managerreviewing her view of the expectations for and needs from your team. Ask:

  • How does this team fit with the firm’s overall strategy and key goals?
  • How is the team’s performance evaluated? (And what do the recent measures/evaluations say about how the team has performed? )
  • Where are the strengths of the group?
  • What are the perceived weaknesses?
  • What are your manager’s expectations for you in this new role?
  • What are the three most important things you can do to support your manager’s agenda during your first quarter?
  • How deep is the talent on the team? Where are the gaps?

2. Engage your peers across functions. Once your promotion has been made public, do your homework and solicit input from your new peers across the organization.

Ask for their perspective on your team’s performance, strengths and gaps. Focus on the interaction points between the groups and ask them to identify strengths and areas for improvement. Take great notes and strive to identify opportunities for early victories. It’s important to have your peers on your side.

3. Make your first team meeting about them, not you. Too often, new managers step into a role and make a poor first impression by waxing poetically or nauseatingly about their own backgrounds and achievements. Resist the urge to make yourself the focal point and after a brief introduction, ask questions designed to help you better understand the team’s culture.

  • What are you proud of that this group does particularly well?
  • What have been the major accomplishments over the last year?
  • What are the current goals of the team?
  • What are the activities you would like to pursue that you haven’t found the time for?

4. Solicit team member input on your new role. This takes a bit of courage, but the feedback you gain will say a lot about your team’s situation and needs. Ask: “At the end of my time as manager of this group, what will you say that I did?”  It’s a good question that will help your team members focus on identifying developmental and organizational needs. Listen and take notes without commenting or judging. I’ve coached a number of managers through the process of soliciting this input and then writing and publishing their Leadership Charter, outlining their commitment to serving the team.

5. Commit to one-on-one meetings with every team member and pre-publish this simple agenda outlining just 3 questions: 

  • What’s working?
  • What’s not?
  • What do you need me to do to help you succeed at your job?

Ideally, conduct the meetings face-to-face, however, telephone or videoconferencing work great for your remote colleagues. Take notes, strive to identify and offer immediate help with tactical problems such as, “I don’t have a powerful enough computer to do my job effectively.”

Commit to rolling up the ideas and suggestions and sharing the input with the entire group. (Remember to ensure anonymity.) These meetings offer great opportunities to hear from and to get to know team members and learn about their ideas, interests and needs. They also offer you and the group ideas on opportunities to collaborate in pursuit of early improvements and needed changes.

6. Establish your operating and communications protocols. As part of your early assessment, review the existence of regular status or operations meetings. If there are regular, timely scheduled sessions, consider sitting in and listening. If the prior manager ran these sessions, rotate the meeting leadership between team members. Once you have a feeling for the effectiveness of the operating routine, you can make adjustments. Unless the team is in crisis, there’s nothing to be gained by immediately asserting your own agenda. Of course, if there is no regular routine, you have ample opportunity to create. Ask your team members for input.

As for your communications protocol, let your team members know how to reach you. Help them to understand your desired level of involvement. Develop a sense of their communication needs—some individuals prefer daily or frequent interaction and others prefer to engage with their manager infrequently or when guidance is required. Be flexible and adapt to their needs.

7. Work with team members to refresh group and individual goals during the first 30 to 45 days. If the team is in a crisis or turn-around situation, accelerate this timetable.

8. Don’t indict prior group practices or the previous manager. While tempting to wonder whether anyone with a brain was home, it’s always great form to avoid criticizing the prior regime.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The point in time when you assume responsibility for a new team should be a period rich in relationship building and collaboration. Resist the urge to assert that you’re the “new sheriff in town,” and use questions to gain context on talent, operations and opportunities. You need your team’s help to succeed and the right way to start out is by making all of your team members a valuable part of the process. You’ll have ample time to make changes as you gain context and credibility. At the beginning, it’s a good practice to observe and ask, but not judge.