Taking over a new team can be a daunting task.
Whether you are taking over a team as you join a new company, taking over a team within your company or even taking over leadership of the team you have been on for a while, this task can prove challenging and set the stage for either future success or future heartburn.
Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of doing all of the above. From taking over teams through acquisition, taking over teams as I joined new organizations or taking over teams within my organizations, I have experienced both the ups and downs of leading through this process. Through my own successes and mostly my failures, I have come to realize there are (3) main components I need to focus on when I am in the situation of taking over a new team.
I have been using these components to provide a framework for me as I take over new teams and used them as I have coached others through this process. I have refined and leaned through experimentation and seen the benefits of investing time and energy into focusing on these (3) components.
The first component I start with is defining the type of culture I want to create and allow.
Culture in this sense is more than open workspaces, free coffee, dogs at work, t-shirts or other aspects generally thought of when culture is discussed. Culture, in this context, is about how we do our work together. This is about how we treat each other and how we treat those we serve.
This is about establishing the way we will do our work. This is not about process but about behaviors, attitudes and values. It is important to clarify what the new standards will be when taking over a team so everyone understand behavioral expectations. It is also important to clarify what you want your team to be known for and what you want your brand to be within your organization.
When I’ve taken over or expanded my teams, I always start with establishing the new standard. I start by defining our team brand or identity so there’s clarity and alignment for everyone. We spend time vision framing together and defining what we want to be known for within the organization. The truth is those outside your team already have a perception of your team. Since that is true, it is important to ensure what they think about your brand is aligned with how you want your team to be perceived by others.
Here is example of a team brand from one of my past teams:
OUR BRAND / IDENTITY
- Pursue Our Success Together
- Entrepreneurial — Experimental & Iterative (Best Idea Wins)
- Model Grit — Get stuff done / Go to people
- Easy to do business with — Internal & External
- Leaders and Learners
- Pace Setters — Positive Attitude, Effort and Excellence
- Aspirational Landing Spot
- We care for each other
By doing this, your team becomes clearer on what you are trying to build, create and allow as their new leader. It takes intentional effort to define and implement standard behaviors and give your team a vision of what could and should be as you build out your cultural system. Remember, at the end of the day, a leader always gets two results. Leaders always get what they create and what they allow. Be intentional to create and allow behaviors that align with the culture you aspire to develop.
The second component is ensuring you have the right people on your team to activate the type of culture you want to create.
After defining and activating your culture vision, the next step is to assimilate and align your people. The key here is to get the right people in the right seats on the bus. You want people on your team who Get it, Want it and have Capacity to execute on the vision.
This requires doing the hard work of digging in to get to know the people you are assimilating into your new team. Most likely, the people on your new team will be a little all over the place and need coaching to help them know how to align to the behavioral and performance expectations.
The important aspect here is to be clear on what the ideal team player attributes are for a successful teammate within your culture so people on your team can understand your expectations.
I have personally adopted Patrick Lencioni’s ideal team virtues from his book The Ideal Team Player. These are concise, easy to understand and provide a clear framework when inviting others to join your team. His three ideal team player virtues are:
Humble — Finding teammates who focus less on themselves and more on the team. This is where the ego is put aside and teammates are quick to share credit, demonstrate gratitude towards those who help them along the way, shout out teammates freely and sometimes forego their own personal recognition to focus on the team’s collective accomplishment.
Hungry — A strong work ethic and commitment to the overall vision. This is the determination to get things done and contribute any way possible to the team’s joint success. Hungry teammates are intrinsically motivated and driven to become the best version of themselves.
Smart — This is not intellectually smart but emotionally smart. This is being able to read the people or room dynamics and knowing how to respond or engage. This is about emotional intelligence. Great teammates have a growth mindset and understand the importance of increasing their emotional intelligence skills.
After clarifying the culture you want to create and working to align the right people with your culture, you can then turn your attention to defining and executing on your scheme. This is where you can get tactical regarding the work you do and how you do that work.
The tendency is to focus on this first but this component comes after you have started to define your culture and align/assimilate your people. This is where the rest of the organization around you is going to focus. They will want to talk about your team’s results and the tactical work your team is responsible for. You should quickly engage and start to understand what each stakeholder considers a “win” for your team and start to work towards that as you build out your culture and people.
Within this component, you are focused on understanding how the work gets done and where do you have opportunities to optimize these processes. This takes a listen, learn then lead approach so you can understand where the high impact/high value opportunities are and identify some quick wins. This does not mean you need to change for change sake. I have seen many leaders step into situations like this and drive change because they feel they need to do so to prove their value. This has often backfired and slowed down the progress building the culture and the people. The people on your team can see through this and most likely they will not respond positively.
The focus here is on understanding how the work gets done and how you can serve and support your team to optimize the work. The focus here is on setting your people up for success and giving them a clear path to do what they are great at doing.
Culture, people and scheme. Focus on these (3) components as you build out your team. Remember, as the leader, you always get what you create and what you allow. Be intentional to ensure you are allowing the right behaviors that align with what you want to build or you are creating a new normal for your team as needed. Your team will respond to the clarity and it will start to build a foundation of trust you can build everything else on top of.