6 Mistakes Leaders Make When Inheriting A New Team – And How To Avoid Them
By: Jay Mitchell
Congratulations, you just got hired or promoted into a new leadership position! That’s the good news. The not-so-good news: you are now being asked to lead a team someone else built.
In our work as Search Consultants, we always look for culture fit to complement competency, character, and chemistry. Inevitably, these new leaders will be tasked with taking over an organization built by someone else with a team someone else hired. Few leaders will have the freedom to build their teams from scratch. You will likely have to start with the team you’ve inherited rather than the one you would have built yourself.
Here are six common mistakes leaders make when taking over someone else’s team.
1. Failing To Get To Know The New Team
It is unhealthy to avoid getting to know everyone on your new team and how they’ve been functioning. You’ve done your homework and asked all the questions you can about the team you’ll inherit, but there’s no substitute for spending time in-person with your team both as a group and as individuals. It’s likely you are being brought in to bring about change. Sometimes that change will include a realignment of staff, re-prioritization of responsibilities, and in some cases, a transition of members off the team. I’ve seen leaders make snap judgments on how to redesign their new staff team without taking the time to get to know them.
Before making any long term decisions about your team, spend time with them. Get away for a day or two to see how they interact as a team. Engage in team building exercises and have them share stories about how they got there and what they hope to accomplish. Within the first 2-3 weeks, you should sit down with every team member one-on-one to make your own assessment of their gifts, experiences, actual and potential contribution to the team.
Take them through a Culture or Staff Engagement Survey to learn where there may be gaps in communication or frustration with how the culture has been operating. Use personality assessments like DiSC, MBTI, Strengthsfinders or Insights to help the team discover how to best communicate and work with one another.
2. Failing To Set A “New Normal” For The Team
When taking over a team that has been in place for a while, it’s natural to want to come in and observe how the team operates without making any major changes. That’s all well and good. However, it will be critical for you as the new leader to establish a clear set of expectations as to how you want the team to function, especially if previous leadership operated in a way different from how you like to operate. Do meetings start and end on time? How do you handle electronics (phones, tablets, or laptops) during meetings? How do we handle conflict? What’s the best way to give and receive feedback?
Setting a “new normal” for the team will be critical to building the team you want rather than adapting to the style of the team you have.
3. Forgetting Relational Equity Is More Powerful Than Positional Authority
Do not assume people will follow your lead just because you have been given a new title, new responsibilities, and new authority. In taking over a new team, your first effort must be to build trust and connections with your team on a personal level. The team wants to know you care about them as people as much as you care about the gifts and talents they bring to the table. When the team knows you have taken the time to get to know them, you will win their trust and they’ll run through a brick wall to help bring your vision to fruition.
"Do not assume people will follow your lead just because you have been given a new title, new responsibilities, and new authority."
4. Making Changes Too Quickly
It’s natural to want to make the team your own and to get some early wins as you build your team and begin to implement your vision. Often you’ll already have some ideas about how you’d like to change some things, realign the team, or even remove a current staff member. Maybe you’ve heard during your interview process that there’s a team member, program, or project that aren’t meeting expectations. Before you drop or radically change the program, drop the project, or remove a staff member, be sure you know the broader ramifications of that decision. Take time to fully assess both the value the person or program brings to your organization along with the potential ripple effects of making a change.
5. Making Changes Too Slowly
I know I just told you to take your time before making sweeping changes. However, it’s also true that new leaders wait too long to make the necessary changes. If, after assessing the team and programming, you determine changes need to be made, act quickly. Do not let the problem drag out any longer than necessary. If you realize a staff member is not going to be a good team member or cannot fulfill the requirements for the position they hold, it is better to move them out quickly, rather than prolonging the inevitable.
6. Believing You Can Fix Anything By Yourself
Chances are, you have been brought onto the team and either hired or promoted in this role because you are good at what you do and the leadership believes in your ability to bring about healthy and positive change. You likely have tools you need to bring health to the organization. However, it’s a mistake to believe you can bring about the needed changes without help. Don’t let your ego get in the way of getting the help you need. You will run into problems you’ve never seen before and will sometimes discover that what got you to where you are isn’t enough to get you to where you know you and the organization need to be.
Seek out mentors who’ve been where you are. Find a coaching network or cohort that can help you process your challenges and help you find solutions. Get additional education and training so you can be the best you can be.
Taking over a team you did not build is challenging, but it’s also a tremendous opportunity. You have the chance to create something new and build the team you envision out of the team you have been given.