Inheriting a new team

Written by
Simon Wright

16 Feb 2017

16 Feb 2017 • by Simon Wright

Dynamics within the team

Whether you are managing a team or not, the way that you relate, work with and get on with the team can have an immediate impact on how you do your job, your self esteem and your relationship with your boss. When you are the boss though, how do you gain trust, gain respect and ensure your team are performing well? 

Coming into a maternity cover role can be challenging for a number of reasons as you are seen as primarily care taking someone's role for them. This can be a really positive thing but you do need to navigate how to perform and achieve without being bombarded with comparisons or for people to feel that you are stealing someone's role. Those thoughts may be inevitable with some people but how do you deal with that,  and deal with the notion that expectations are perceived to be lower than someone stepping into a permanent role?

What will the new team be like?

Transparency is the key

Have clear transparent conversations with your manager about what is expected of you, about how and when things are going to be delivered.

It's useful to get from them what they want you to achieve in this period. If you are leading on already established projects then this can be straight forward, but when you want to implement your own ideas then this can be tough without being seen as treading on toes. Talk openly with your manager about what you want to do and gain their support. Have concise business reasons as to why you want to make these changes, rather than simply making change for changes sake. Consult the team and take them forward with you making sure they are aware of what is required of them. Acknowledge that they may not be comfortable with change, but don't allow them to fall into sulky patterns of “Sue (former boss) wouldn’t do it this way”. This can be tough, particularly when faced with a manager who is very present to the, and who they feel is their real boss. They may have a close friendship with this person or they may go to that person with their work problems but you are currently doing the role and they have to respect that. You can listen to their concerns but discuss the benefits to them about the changes that you are implementing and how this can ultimately help their careers. Acknowledge the great work of the person who is on maternity leave but don't compare yourself to them.

Inheriting a team where they hated their boss is extremely tough. You are walking into a mine field of mis trust, low self esteem and a general malaise of feeling devalued.

Inheriting a team

When you inherit a team where they loved their boss, and then you join, the team can go through a mourning period. There can be initial resistance to you because of the fact that you are simply not their boss. Kill the team with kindness, acknowledge their concerns but focus on the future and their strengths. Whilst you can say that the last boss was great you need to be clear that you are the manager now, otherwise you will be pitted against a series of comparisons which will become tiresome very quickly. The team need to know and appreciate that you are there now.

Be transparent with your goals and be clear and transparent about what is expected of them. If things aren't being done or feedback isn't great then acknowledge that there and then. Don't build up a portfolio of bad examples to confront them with further down the line. Have those conversations as and when they happen. You don't have to do everything the same way the previous incumbent did, but the team can make you feel like you should. Have clear reasoning for new ways of working but don't be swayed to change things simply by wanting to be liked. To often we try and be everyone's friend and that can blur lines and areas of authority.. I’m not saying be a diva but focus on the work and getting things done.

Inheriting a team where they hated their boss is extremely tough. You are walking into a mine field of mis trust, low self esteem and a general malaise of feeling devalued. Some of the team may see you as a saviour from the bad times. Some may want to engage you with tales of how awful things were before. Others may be hesitant and surly fearing that history was going to repeat itself. Take time out to talk honestly and really listen to each team member. Acknowledge their concerns but focus on what they enjoyed about their role, how they want to develop and maintain that you will be supportive in helping them. Again be clear about what you want to achieve and their role in that. If faced with a cacophony of “that won't work” or “it all went wrong last time, then reassert that is what you are going to do. At times like this the team can be looking for signs of weakness, so try and not be defensive. It is easy when you are new to want everyone to be your friend. Set routines, be transparent and take them on the journey with you. 

The key thing with inheriting a new team is time. It takes time to get to know them and it takes time for them to get to know you. Don't rush in with change, but equally don't be too people pleasing and overly consultative then nothing gets achieved.

You both need to find your work groove.