Setting the Tone with a New Team

Asian Businesswoman Leading Meeting At Boardroom Table

Asian Businesswoman Leading Meeting At Boardroom Table

One of my executive coaching clients didn't know what to make of the new team he was leading. They kept coming to him to ask for approval and guidance on things he felt they should be able to handle. What was going on here?  

Your first days as the leader of a new team — or serving in a leadership role such as project manager — set the stage for your working relationship over the long term. So it's important to communicate clearly and set a positive tone from the start.

These strategies helped my client better understand and work more effectively with his new team, and may help you the next time you're in a similar situation.

Get the Background

When you're leading a new team, one of the first things to do is to get a sense of the leadership style that they're used to. Ask about what the previous leader was like and how she worked with the team. In my client's case, he discovered that his predecessor was very hands-on and wanted to be involved with day-to-day decisions. My client's approach is totally different, so it's no wonder he felt surprised by how this team engaged him.

Manage Short- and Long-Term Expectations

The way that you operate at the outset of leading a new team might not be the same way you want to handle things over the long haul. For example, it's natural to focus on details and be more involved than you would normally be as you take on a new role. Remember, though, that your team is looking for clues about how you'll lead and may assume you'll always want to manage them closely. Give them a sense of where things are headed. You could say something like "I am more focused on diving into details now as I’m learning more about the team’s work and scope, but I'll back off over time."

Make Your Intent Clear

Let your team know how you like to work and communicate. Don't assume they should "just know," especially if the past leader had a very different style. Help them understand why you lead the way that you do. For example, my client explained to his new team that his style was more hands-off because his goal was to help them grow by giving them more responsibility and exposure and helping them develop new skills in a way they hadn't before.

Be Consistent

After you explain your intent, back it up with your actions. This will help build your team's sense of certainty about what to expect from you and what success looks like.

If you'll be leading a new team soon, take some time this week to get a head start by using these questions. To continue on the right track, pick up "Building a Strong Team," part of the Leadership EdgeSM series.