Stepping in to lead a new team can be an exciting time for a leader. You probably have grand ideas of all the things you’re going to change to take the team’s performance to the next level. You’re looking forward to making an impact and demonstrating to everyone that you’re the right person for the job.
But you also need to be careful when stepping in to lead a new team. Your first few moves sets the tone for your leadership – positive or negative – so it’s important you go into this venture with a clear and focused plan of action. Every leader has a honeymoon period with his/her new team and you want to be sure to capitalize on this opportunity.
Here are five critical steps you should take when leading a new team:
1. Meet with your boss to get clear on your own goals – First and foremost you need to be clear on your own performance goals. Some organizations and leaders do a better job than others in setting goals, but regardless of the cultural norms of your organization, take it upon yourself to drive the goal setting process with your boss. At the end of the day your performance will be evaluated against those goals so you’ll want to make sure you and your boss are in alignment.
2. Schedule and conduct 1on1’s with all of your team members – Your primary goal when taking over leadership of a team is to build trust with your team members, and the only way that’s possible is by investing time in developing the relationship. Hold 1on1 meetings with each team member and make it your focus to build the relationship. Get to know them personally and understand their goals, dreams, and frustrations. Enter these conversations with the spirit of a learner. Don’t use this time as an opportunity to impress others with your brilliance. That will backfire and you’ll come off as arrogant and bossy. Listen, learn, solicit input, get the lay of the land, and simply get to know people.
3. Diagnose your team’s stage of development and use the appropriate leadership style – Teams go through natural stages of development and each stage requires the leader to use a different leadership style. When teams are just forming, morale is generally high but productivity is low because the team hasn’t accomplished much. At this stage the leader needs to provide high direction such as setting goals, establishing processes, and getting people up to speed on their respective tasks. As the team starts to mature they often experience growing pains. Morale may suffer and productivity may fluctuate. At this stage leaders have to keep providing high direction to develop the team’s productivity but also dial-up the emotional support to help the team address their morale issues. Things will start to smooth out for teams in the next stage of development and leaders can dial down their directive behaviors because the team knows what to do, but the leader still needs to provide high support so the team continues to improve internal relationships to work cohesively as a group. Eventually teams can reach the stage where they are firing on all cylinders in regards to both their tasks and their relationships. At this stage leaders are focused on helping the team consider new challenges or removing roadblocks to help them continue their great performance.
4. Review or create a team charter – A team charter is a set of agreements the team develops that outline why the team exists, what its goals are, and how team members will work together to live out their purpose. If your team already has a defined charter, this is a good time to review it and see if it still accurately captures the purpose and goals of the team. If your team doesn’t have a charter, schedule sufficient time to work through these elements. Developing a team charter isn’t touchy-feely team building nonsense; it’s important work that sets the foundation for how your team will operate moving forward.
5. Build a climate of trust – As I mentioned earlier, the number one priority for you when stepping in as a new leader is to build trust with your team. If you don’t establish trust, your team will constantly be working against you. Once a climate of trust is established, you will be able to implement new ideas and move the team to higher levels of performance. Focus on demonstrating the ABCD’s of trust and the team will follow your lead.
You only get once chance to make a first impression with your team. Make sure you approach this opportunity with a clear plan of action. Getting clear on your own goals, developing relationships with team members, using the right leadership styles for your team’s stage of development, having a clear charter to guide your team’s activities, and fostering a climate of trust will get you started on the right foot.
Feel free to leave a comment with your own suggestions for leaders stepping in to lead a new team.