Whether you start a new leadership job at a new company or are promoted into a leadership role at your current company, one of the first things you’ll do as a leader is get to know your team.
Hopefully, at this point you’re going to be inherently optimistic, because you’re probably excited to be tackling this new opportunity and you’re energized to make the most of it.
Your initial conversations with the team will likely be really positive because, like you, they will be wanting to make a good impression on their new leader.
Sometimes the descent of your enthusiasm and optimism is slow, and other times, it’s akin to the Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror when the elevator drops out on you for the first time. Inevitably, your perception of your team will wane from those initial meetings.
I’m not saying that every person on every team you inherit will be poor performing or devoid of talent, but the honeymoon phase is real, even in work relationships.
Try not to fall too hard too fast, or to be overly judgmental too soon; first impressions are important, but rarely tell the entire story, stay balanced and objective as you take inventory of your environment and of your team.
It’s equally important for you to know that each member of your team will be riding their own version of the Love/Hate Rollercoaster with you.
I’ve had the opportunity to start a leadership journey on both a high and a low.
Early in my leadership career, I joined a team as a leader, and my new team was very excited about it. I had a good reputation, and they were confident I’d be able to help and guide them.
Of course, I am a mere mortal, and eventually did something that disappointed them, and they may have felt more dejected because their initial expectations were so high.
A different team I joined later had a couple of members who thought my hire was a mistake; they were sure I wouldn’t be able to help them grow and succeed.
Over time, I was able to build credibility by being consistent and adding value, and eventually I earned their respect and trust. No matter where you start, the goal is for the ride to smooth out. You can help lessen the ups and downs if you employ a simple system for how you approach your new team.
If it’s an option, the first thing I would do is spend 1:1 time with whomever managed them in the past; worst case, spend time with people who’ve been around, supported, or worked with the team to get a sense of who’s who and what’s what.
In some cases you might be taking over for this person, which could be positive or negative, and you will almost certainly believe that you can get more out of the people on the team. That may be true, but you should listen to what they have to say.
Spotting and addressing patterns of behavior is difficult and time consuming when you start from zero. Don’t take this feedback for granted, but also remember it’s important for you to make your own judgement; this feedback is valuable, but it is only one data point in the development of your point of view.
The next thing I would recommend doing is 2:1 transition meetings if the option is available. The more context you have the better.
If the previous manager is still accessible, have them do a transitional meeting where they formally hand over career path, strengths, development areas, and the like.
Again, starting from zero is slow. If you already know that employee X has a history of showing up late, or missing deadlines, you are then empowered to take corrective action the first time it happens as opposed to needing to build your own library of examples before coaching on it.
Once you have these two things completed, you’re ready to move on to 1:1’s. Of course, if the previous leadership isn’t accessible, you might skip to this step after trying to assess the team from the periphery.
You should focus your early 1:1’s on establishing rapport with the individuals, understanding their aspirations and the things that drive them personally.
We’ve recently done some training with Bill Joy of The Joy Group around people’s drivers and the content is worth a look if you want to develop in this area. There will be plenty of time to get down to business, but this is foundational work that will put you in an advantageous position in your relationship with your employees.
If you’re fortunate enough to have the ability to do it, I’d recommend that you follow your initial round of 1:1s with a team event. Get people out of the office, or do something fun together in the office. Either way, it’s important to connect with people on a human level; for you to know them and for them to know you.
You don’t have to, and probably shouldn’t, get into deep personal relationships with every person on your team, but you have to be relatable.
A lot of people would probably start with this, but I’d recommend putting your first team meeting last in this sequence. The reason being, on day one in a new role, especially if you’re joining a new organization, what do you really know? You’ve learned a bit from the website, spent a few hours with team members and you have some strong assumptions, but you don’t really know the in’s and out’s and dirty secrets yet.
You have to do some real discovery and figure out what the team needs. If you start day one saying ‘This is what we are going to do…’ there is a high likelihood that you’re going to be wrong and either have to eat some humble pie very early on in your tenure, or you’re going to be stubborn and stay on a bad course.
Either way, these are not early victories. Take this first team meeting not to talk about what you’re going to do but instead, talk about what you’ve learned from them and where you’re going to focus as a result.
The most important thing is that you’re cognizant of the fact that there will be swings in how you feel about your team and how your team feels about you and that you should do whatever you can to stay balanced.
It’s important for you to understand where you’re at in the eyes of your team as well; you don’t always get the luxury of starting out on a high note.
In order to minimize the swings as you learn your new team, even if you don’t follow this formula, have a plan that helps you truly get to know the team, their situation, and the environment before you get into full execution mode.
This will undoubtedly pay dividends down the road.