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How to be the strongest link

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Being a new manager of an existing team doesn’t mean you have to be the outsider

You’re the new manager taking over leadership of an existing team; you’re coming in to a scene with its own back story. You’re a new character, the “outsider”; your new direct reports, however, are the “insiders”. As the outsider, you’ve got to figure out who’s who on the team and you have many new relationships to build. Where do you start?

First, identify available individuals who can help you accelerate your learning: internal experts, other managers or colleagues and your boss. Set up time with as many as possible and start every conversation with: “If you were in my shoes right now, what are the things you would want to know?” Your best line in these talks will be something like: “Will you please tell me more about that?” Take lots of notes.

Second, get as much structured one-to-one time with your boss as possible. Discuss what you are learning of the big picture, your team’s work, the broad performance standards and company-wide processes. Ask open-ended questions about what’s what and who’s who. This is also the time to ask very specific questions about your new tasks, responsibilities and projects. Don’t forget your main new responsibility is managing people: explain to your new boss exactly how you intend to manage your direct reports (for example, by building regular, structured one-to-ones in which you spell out expectations, give direction and feedback, and track performance). Make sure you have your boss’s support for this engaged approach.

How to get your individual staff members operating as one team

These are some key questions you should consider asking your direct reports and their team members to get everyone involved in thinking about the team:

● What should change about how our team operates?
● What should not change about how our team operates?
● If you were suddenly the team manager, what would be your first, second and third priorities?

Third, it’s important to have a series of introductory team meetings at the outset. Start with brainstorming sessions around three questions (see box). Wrap up these sessions by making clear to the whole team that you will hold team meetings when they make sense but your main management technique will be building regular, structured one-to-one dialogues with each team member.

Fourth, start scheduling your one-to-ones with each of your direct reports. As you get into the schedule, your first mission with each person will be to get up to speed on the fundamentals of their job. Ask: What are your current projects, tasks and responsibilities? What are your longer, intermediate and short-term goals? High points? Pain points? What do you want? What do you need? Meet with every person very often at first. With this systematic approach, you’ll get up to speed in a matter of weeks, become more knowledgeable and be able to give more acute direction.

● This article is adapted from The 27 Challenges Managers Face (Wiley/Jossey-Bass, 2014)


Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader, and author. He is the founder and CEO of Rainmaker Thinking, Inc and Rainmaker Thinking.Training

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