Leading A Team You Inherit
I consider leading teams as one of the greatest privileges of my professional career. However, the teams may come to you in a different manner - there are teams that you build from scratch and there are teams you inherit from other leaders. As an entrepreneur, for most part of my early career I always built teams from scratch. However, over the last few years, while building new teams, I have also gotten opportunities to inherit teams. While inheriting teams and working with them can be great fun for those leaders who love to lead teams, I must confess that it can also be a bumpy ride in the beginning.
Inheriting a team becomes more challenging, especially when you are joining a new company. Since you are a newbie, you don't really understand the culture of the company. While you may understand your functional area very well, you rarely know the accepted norms for cultural items like goal setting and performance expectations or historical context, which are critical for helping a team to be set up for success.
It requires patience and persistence to inherit a team and come to a place where you believe that you can truly lead it well. Frankly, sometimes the journey might seem like fixing an airplane in mid-flight—you can’t switch it off, but you can’t also fly it effectively!
Here are seven practices that have helped me when I was given the opportunity to inherit and lead teams.
Listen, Listen, and Listen
Listen to your team. From your direct reports to skip levels to whoever else wants to chat with you. And then listen to your peers, leaders and everyone else around! Essentially listen to the organization before you start acting. Active listening will not only help you to know more about your team’s culture, but also help you gauge priorities, challenges and sometimes even possible solutions.
Be Thoughtful While Asking Questions
Of course, you will have a lot of questions but being thoughtful while questioning is important. The intent of your questions should be to advance a dialog and not shut it down. Focus on the why’s vs the what’s and how’s.
Suspend Any Judgements
Recently, I read a quote somewhere “Don't Judge One's Story by the Chapter You Walked In On”. This resonates a lot with me, in context of inheriting a team. I always start from a place of trusting the team and make it a point to not judge the team’s capabilities without truly understanding their challenges. In fact, it is important to find ways to set up the team for success, before you go about evaluating them.
During your initial days as a leader, it is also important to build your credibility with your newly inherited team. Remember to draw a line between supporting your team and promising something you can’t deliver. I have always tried to have the back of my team leaders while trying to ensure that I am not over committing in any areas.
Set Your Goals, Early On
Goal setting is an important part of leading any team. It becomes even more critical when you are inheriting a team because you need to decide whether you want to align to the team’s goals or make them align to yours. Alignment is pivotal and it comes from goal setting.
Help Improve Existing Processes
Many times, we focus a lot of our energies on changing things around. I would suggest not to get overwhelmed by this urge to change things. Rather, wait and make the existing processes better. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t change anything. Just don’t try to fix what isn’t broken!
Finally. Assess, Reshape, Scale Up
Once you get a better grip on the functioning of your team and understand the company culture better, you should start to assess their capabilities, reshape if required and scale up with some quick short-term wins, while planning for the long-term vision and goals.
These practices have helped me to manage the teams that I have inherited over the last few years. I would love to know what has worked (and not worked) for you!