Management & Leadership

You’ve inherited a new team - now what?

Hannah Keal
Hannah Keal 4 min

Inheriting a team is far from easy.

When building a team from scratch, you’re calling the shots. You decide what skills and behaviours you’ll need to achieve your big, hairy audacious goals; you get to build buy-in through the hiring process and you’re there every step of the way as team dynamics emerge.

By contrast, when you inherit a team, you’re often coming in with limited context. There’s a need to quickly ‘read the room’ to understand the vibe and get to grips with burning issues so you can put out some fires. Not to mention that management changes are often destabilising for team members, which might lead to a fair amount of scepticism about your intentions. All this can make inheriting a team a daunting task - but it doesn’t have to be. In this blog, we’ll cover some tips to help you build trust with your new team quickly.

woman presenting to her colleagues around a table

Listen and learn

When you’re coming into a new team, there is often pressure to create impact immediately and with a fully-formed vision to implement. However, this approach, well intentioned as it may be, can come across a little ‘bull in a china shop’ and result in resistance from the existing team.

Instead - really focus time and energy on learning from your new colleagues. After all, they’re closest to current challenges and will likely have valuable context to share that helps you figure out how to overcome them. Of course, you should also lean on other stakeholders across the business to get different perspectives - and trust your own experience - but don’t miss out on valuable insights from your new team.

Build trust through quick wins

Once you’ve collated some feedback on your team’s day to day frustrations, you can build trust in two ways. Firstly, by co-creating some solutions. Try asking ‘if you were me, how would you tackle this problem?’ - and then work through ideas together. Once you’ve figured out a way forward, make sure you follow through. Getting a few quick wins under your belt will reassure your team members that you care about resolving issues that impact their day-to-day lives.

Get personal

In your first 1:1’s with new team members, focus on getting to know them as people. Get curious about their long term aspirations, their strengths and how they’d like to develop. Remember that different people have different preferences when it comes to being managed - it’s your job to flex your style to get the best out of your team.

Asking direct questions can be uncomfortable, but it’s important to learn what makes each member of your team tick. To get the most out of these initial conversations, try sharing the questions you want to ask ahead of your 1:1 so your team members can prepare.

Get personal

Another great way to build understanding of each team member's preferences is to ask about their previous experience. For example - asking someone how they like to be managed is a little abstract.

Instead, try ‘tell me about a great experience you’ve had with a previous manager. What did you enjoy about working with them?’ (Don’t forget to also ask about the flip side, so you understand what frustrates them too.) If you have a team member that’s shy about shouting about their strengths, try something like ‘tell me about a project you worked on recently that you really enjoyed,’ then ask follow up questions to determine their role and how they added value.

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Make it reciprocal

Sharing your own working preferences is just as important as getting to know your team members. Take the time to give your new colleagues clarity on your expectations, how you operate as a manager and talk openly about your own strengths and development areas. A bit of vulnerability will create space for your team members to share more. Of course - being able to communicate how you work well relies on you having reflected upon all of this good stuff.

A great framework for doing this thinking is a manager 'readme'. The term 'readme' originated in tech teams and within this context, referred to a kind of user manual to help engineers navigate a piece of code that was new to them. Manager 'readme’s' operate according to the same principles - they’re a user guide to you. 'Readme’s' are personal and there are many ways to pull them together - see here for some great examples.

They work best when they’re reciprocal, so once you’ve shared yours, try inviting your team members to put together their own and present them to the team. This is a really great exercise to help teammates get to know one another on a deeper level and understand more about how they can learn from one another.

A final reminder

As we mentioned at the top of this blog - inheriting a team is tough. As you navigate the first weeks and months with your new colleagues, it’s good to remind yourself that you don’t have to know all the answers or solve everything immediately. Focus on what’s going to have an impact - and remember, you’re not alone. You’ve got a team now.

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