On Managing a New Team – Part 1
Every once in a while, you get to manage a new (but existing) team. There isn’t one right way of approaching this. In order to improve your chances of success, you need to do some homework.
If you can talk to the manager that’s leaving the team, you should. Get their take on what was important to them. Ask what goals were they pursuing and why. Ask them what challenges they were dealing with. If it’s not clear why they’re leaving the team, ask them — depending on the situation, you may not get an entirely truthful response, but you’ll get some response. As you learn more about the organizational landscape you’ll know how to make sense of this later.
Talk to your new manager and understand what their goals are and how your new team fits into that. Were there things that were working? Were there things that never worked? Are there specific things that your manager would like addressed or changed? Jot these things down. After your meeting, see if this make sense to you. Sketch out the high level organizational goals as you understand them and see if you can tie everything together. In order for you to lead your team well, you need to have this clear in your mind.
Sketch out how your new team interacts with other functions in the organization. Figure out who manages these groups. If you don’t know these managers, introduce yourself and ask them about their current challenges. Ask them about specific issues they’ve had with your new team and if there’s anything they’d like changed. Make sure you take notes. Try to understand what’s important to your peers and why. This is crucial in mapping out the political landscape that your team operates in (more on this in an upcoming post). After meeting with your new peers, see if you can sketch out a picture of how things fit together and tie into top level goals. Again, this picture has to make sense to you in order for you to lead effectively.
Finally, devote your first status meeting to asking your team what’s important to them. Ask them what they think the top level organizational goals are. Ask them about their individual and team goals. Ask them about the challenges they’re facing. Ask them which groups they have trouble working with and why. Your first meeting is not about telling your team things — it’s about you asking your team questions and listening. Jot your notes on a whiteboard so everyone can see. Treat this as a pseudo-brainstorming session. Take a pictures of the whiteboard. Make sure to thank your team for sharing their insights, but keep in mind that they may not entirely trust you yet — you have to earn this over time. As you build trust within the team, make sure you revisit this discussion. You will hear different things as people get to know you better and trust you more.
After you’ve talked to everyone, you’ll need to do something with all the information you’ve collected. We’ll pick this up in tomorrow’s post.