New Leader Assimilation Sets Teams Up For Success
Now more than ever, resignations, restructuring, and economic uncertainty are causing shifts in teams and their leaders. Our clients are reporting merging of teams that used to be peers, internal promotions (causing the classic buddy-to-boss scenario), and external hiring at unprecedented levels.
All this is a recipe for chaos, challenge, and dysfunction—unless the new leader is intentional in setting their teams up for success from the start.
Regardless of the reason for the shift in leadership, there is always uncertainty when a new leader joins a pre-existing team. Both the leader and their new team members want to make a strong first impression, set expectations for each other, develop a routine for how they’ll work together, and so on. The new leader assimilation agenda should include time dedicated to the team's needs and the new leader's needs.
The most important goal is to accelerate the getting-to-know-each-other process so the team can move toward quicker results and deeper engagement. If this process of new leader assimilation isn’t handled well it has the potential to set the team back for months or even years.
There are two common situations that I want to call special attention to as each present unique complications to assimilation:
- The new leader comes from outside the organization and is not only learning about and assessing their team(s) but is also learning the dynamics of being a new boss themselves, getting to know new peers, learning how to work with their manager, and how to navigate in the new organizational culture.
- The new leader is promoted from within the team and while steep in the roles and responsibilities that exist today, they are moving from co-worker to boss and analyzing how to set a new shared vision for the team. There are normally also challenges working with new peers who used to be superiors in the hierarchy.
It’s important to consider each transition circumstances and tailor the assimilation to meet these unique needs. But no matter how complicated the transition is, a 12-month facilitated process with a neutral coach can set the stage and increase the chances of early team success.
From our experience in running these types of assimilation processes, here are five focus areas that can help a leader make a sustained impact:
Step one: Get to know the team
Building relationships as a new boss can be challenging, but the first step is getting to know team members on a personal level. This grounds future interactions with your team because they will have context and can work to deepen that relationship with time. It’s a common mistake for a leader to set their gaze up and around to peers early in the process (and for good reason), but it is equally critical that direct reports gain that immediate connection and understanding of the leader’s style and expectations.
- What are the team’s preferences?
- How do team members interact?
- What does collaboration look like for this team?
- What does the team value?
Step two: Learn the team’s history
The team that exists today may have been built for a different purpose or with different original team members. There may be tenured team members combined with new team members, or any other combination of differences, so knowing team history is good for more than just the leader. Understanding how and why the team was established, what the current state of the relationships are, and how the team has adapted will allow the new leader to realistically determine the team’s path forward. Learning the above the line and below the line experiences, it can help tenured team members break from the past and new team members have deeper context.
- How long have team members been working with one another?
- Do team members work together well?
- Are there any areas of dysfunction or potential problems?
- What is the team’s engagement level?
Step three: Establish mutual expectations
This is one of the most crucial steps to effective teamwork, allowing the team to avoid potential problems or conflicts due to lack of clarity. As a new leader, you and your team must define what you expect of each other, clarify what’s acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and understand each person’s roles. Be sure to handle this stage with mutuality—meaning it’s a two-way street. Give your new team their own opportunity to ask what they expect of you as a leader and how you can best support their growth and development—it’s not power but empower.
- What are key performance expectations for each role?
- What metrics is the team expected to perform on?
- Do we have any training or development needs to meet your goals?
- What do you expect and need from a leader to reach your potential?
Step four: Create agreements for working together
The team’s commitment to accountability allows each member to feel a sense of contribution toward the overall teams’ goals. New leaders who create a set of operating principles or team norms for working together ensures clarity and a common language. Remember that team members won’t buy in if they don’t get to weigh in—be sure this step is done as a team and not an edict.
- How do team members hold each other accountable?
- What is the team’s primary goal?
- How will we align work habits to achieve high performance?
- What issues, if any, need to be addressed?
Step Five: Set a game plan to hit the ground running
For at least the first 12 months, assimilation is not a one-time thing but an all-the-time thing. It requires regular attention at various intervals. After having a few months together using the above four steps, in this final step you can continue to bring the team together through retreats and reinforcement sessions to increase team cohesion, work through performance adjustments, and measure progress.
- What will the team accomplish after the first 90 days of assimilation?
- How can you ensure you deepen relationships and increase team cohesion at six, nine, and 12-month intervals?
With a focus on these five areas, your new leaders can forge and finetune a high-performing team without missing a beat.
Have questions or think your team needs a little extra guidance? Reach out to us and find out more about our new leader assimilation program.