How To Lead When You Inherit Your Team

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(image credit: bossfight.co)

If you’ve been in leadership for more than a few years you’ve probably been put in the position of taking over a team that you did not hire and sometimes don’t know much about. This can be a daunting situation, even for a seasoned leader.

This has happened to me on several occasions in my years of leadership and each time I learned something important from the experience and I wanted to share some tips in this post.

The tendency that all leaders have when taking on new responsibility and a new team is to establish their leadership presence immediately. Sometimes that looks like going in guns blazing and making all sorts of judgements on people, systems, results, and culture. Do your best to resist the temptation to do that. That approach could very likely cause you to miss some important information about the environment and people that you are now in charge of leading.

Here are 5 things all leaders can do to make the most of a new leadership opportunity with a new team:

1. As you prepare to work with your new team, set aside time to sit down with every single individual to get to know them. Do not use this time to push your agenda. If you are inheriting a team suddenly, there is likely some unresolved tension about the outgoing leader and those situations need time to breathe. If you allow the new team member to vent and express their concerns and frustrations it creates some very goodwill towards you as the new leader.

2. As you sit down with each team member, ask some of the same questions to each person. I have used 7 questions, 11 questions, 15 questions, etc. Figure out what makes sense for the situation you are walking into and the most important things you want to know and ask about those things. Some questions I’ve asked are:

A. What is the most valuable use of you time? The least valuable?

B. Who do you work well with? Why?

C. What do you hope I will do?

D. What do you hope I won’t do?

E. What one thing can I do to help make you job easier?

F. What is one tool you are missing that would help you accomplish more?

G. If you could change one thing about the organization, what would that be?

3. Do your best to wait 30-days before you make any aggressive systemic changes within the organization, especially if you are new to the company on top of being new to the people. This allows everyone to learn your style and approach to issues and will make them more comfortable in the long run. It also allows you to make some great observations around your team and how they operate individually, as well as how they work together.

4. This 30-day window allows you to vet what you heard from each team member with what you are actually seeing. Who is a team player? Who isn’t? Who are the top performers? How does that match up with what you were told coming into the role?

5. Use your first 30 days to build your 90-day plan. This gives 30 days to establish a rhythm and will give you more clarity around what it is that you want to address and set some goals around for the next 90 days. That is incredibly important because not everything that is important is urgent, and you need to be clear on the priorities for the organization and how to best address what you see as opportunities for improvement, and WHO will be the best people to address those opportunities.

Remember, not everything you are told coming into a new role about the team you are inheriting is necessarily accurate. Everyone has a lens through which they see people, and those lenses can be cloudy to the reality of the performance of a team.

Taking your first 30 days to assess your team, the culture, and results of your new leadership opportunity is an investment that will pay off hugely for the future.

Published by

Bobby Shaw

I am a former restaurant company executive with a passion for developing existing and future leaders to achieve high standards. I love helping organizations develop strong people cultures with an emphasis on leadership development that result in top-notch operations and better business results.
I have over 30 years in the restaurant business in all facets of operations, from my start at McDonald’s in the grill area in 1984 to overseeing 200+ restaurants with Chipotle Mexican Grill from 2002-2012 to leading Freebirds World Burrito’s resurgence from 2013-2016 to working with the Salad and Go restaurant startup as CEO in 2016/2017.

My real world experience transcends the typical operations background with a focus in leadership development and coaching. At the core of my background and experience, I believe that how leaders get results is just as important as getting them, and what got them where they are, won’t necessarily get them where they want to go. I work closely with individual leaders and companies to improve their results through understanding how their strengths impact the overall results.

My goal is to help business leaders and companies learn how to leverage the strengths of their employees by understanding their strengths and what they’re good at, and using that knowledge to positively impact their entire organization.

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