Nearly a year back, when I changed my job, I inherited a team. I tried to remember the famous management quote, ‘this time you are not starting from scratch, you are starting from experience’, and more!
The first time I inherited a team was also the first time I became a team leader. Quite a challenge that, I tell you. You would think that being good at what you do is enough sometimes, until you are handed the leadership baton and realise that leadership is a many nuanced thing with several shades of ‘a-ha’ and some.
Inheriting a team is one of those ‘a-ha’ and your reputation as a leader starts right there. If I must be honest, I did a terrible job the first time. Honestly, while I had the experience of leading projects and getting different people and teams to deliver, it wasn’t quite the same when it came to your own team. I had a harrowing experience of expectations-, values- and ethics-mismatch. On hindsight, I can pinpoint and say, it was a little to do with lack of experience and a lot more to do with ‘leadership coaching’, development and the word I discovered along the way – ‘transitions’. Because not everyone is a born leader, especially in a Corporate world. But when you do get the opportunity you can be ready and set yourself up for success.
Here are a few useful takeaways to succeed with a team you inherit:
Treat ‘Inheriting a team’ like any other career ‘transition’
Most people who study HR or management know the word ‘career transition’. A lot of us don’t. And when the transition happens, if you are not aware, you won’t even know what hit you. In a management article I once read, it said, ‘A career transition is a lifestyle redesign.’ Can you believe that! And so it is. You have a new team, you didn’t hire them and now you need to adjust or re-design your life around that new change. And you know, your success depends on your team’s.
Also in all the frenzy of understanding the new org, new stakeholders, leaders, business, this could fall through the cracks and you don’t want that. It’s very satisfying when you finally do it right and the learning is worth it. I am not sure there are self-help books on inheriting teams but once you know it’s a transition, you can read books on transition like:
- Taking people along by David Novak
- What got you here, won’t get you there by Marshall Goldsmith
- First 90 days by Michael D. Watkins
It’s like getting on a running train
We use this phrase when someone tries to get into a conversation without understanding the previous context. This is the difference between hiring your own team and inheriting one. When you are hiring, you can set expectations and context from the very beginning. When inheriting, you are entering a previously laid context. Here is the learning though. You were hired for a particular role, and in the ops plan you have for the organization, your team has to fit in.
Go with the team
Take your time to assess the team and look at cues on what works and what might not. Go with the team, there is a lot to learn from them, historically, contextually as well as what’s working well as you make your plans.
Create a safe space, allow for psychological safety
When a new manager joins, the boat feels a little more rocky than just having a new member join. Create a safe space for your team members to speak up, share their fears, challenges and concerns. Without judgement.
Take the team with you
Share your vision but also ensure to define and communicate where each of your team members fit in. Some are perfect fit and some need a little readjusting. Values, culture and ways of working are as important as expectations, ensure to communicate those as part of the plan.
As my coach once said, there is a company culture and then there is your own team culture. You are responsible for it.
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