There are many leaders who have been through the process of handling a new team. But sometimes the team already exists and the leader is new. I have recently experienced this when I started leading an existing team. I’d like to share few insights on some challenges a new leader faces.
All teams go through similar stages of development, as outlined in Bruce Tuckman’s model for the stages of team formation. The most important thing for a new leader is to understand which stage his or her team is in. Once you get an idea of the team stage, then it gets much easier to start working with the team. Teams can be a mix of multiple stages as well. For example, in client facing operations the team acts in the performing stage. But back at office, you can clearly sense the storming stage. To get the team traveling on the journey together, a new leader should work toward moving the team through the stages of team formation.
Below are a few tips for new leaders:
Solidifying a Team Name and Identity: While all team members bring different strengths to the team, it is imperative that the team explores its identity. This can be achieved through a casual session with open-ended questions like, “What do you think we are here for?” and, “What would we be liked to known for?” Capture these ideas and use them to form a team identity. It may take a while to find and believe in an identity, but once it happens then the whole team feels they are on same boat.
Embracing Uniqueness: If we look at the famous breakup of T.E.A.M. (Together Everyone Achieves More), the trick is in everyone. Team players make it happen. Another universal truth is that the individual team members will always be different. The sooner we as leaders realize this, the better it gets. Understanding the differences and respecting them is very important. Once we understand the different types in our team, working with them gets a little easier. Below are a few unique types of individuals that I have throughout in my career.
The Caring Dove – there is always somebody in a team who is extremely caring and loving to others. This person gives immediate support to the new leader and helps bring the team together. He/she has very good relationships with most of the team members and can be your advocate to bring in new ideas to the team.
The White Swan – this is the perfectionist of the team. He or she is an out and out performer, but is behind everybody else to make things perfect. This team member is comfortable with only a few others in the team and his/her personal time and space is important. It is imperative for new leaders to make plans with this person in mind to encourage continued success.
The Rowdy Horse – this is a very hard working team member who has already spent some time in the team. He/she has been through the highs and lows of the team and stuck with it. While this person has experience, they also have a rough exterior and can easily hurt others with their words, actions, and attitude. A leader needs to spend time with him/her and highlight this blind spot.
The Wise Owl – this person is in the “been there, done that” camp. A calm performer who understands the team dynamics and know how to get the best out of others. For a new leader, the best approach is to take advice and insight from this person and turn them into a trusted advisor.
Setting Expectations: While the roles and responsibilities are well defined in every team, most conflicts happen because of missed expectations. It is vital for a new leader to first understand the roles well and then spend time with team members to arrive at crystal clear expectations. Clarifying roles and responsibilities as well as norms and behaviors defines the rules of engagement in a team. Clear expectations will allow a team to function better and ultimately succeed as a group.
Let the Good Times Roll: We all remember the good times. A team that laughs together, plays together, and stays together. A new leader needs to ensure that there are moments in a team that will be cherished. It’s important to celebrate small wins and occasions. Find a reason to party and do it! When a team gets more opportunities to connect causally, they naturally bond more and grow the mutual respect that is needed to take a team from good to great.