Question: Helping a new manager take charge

A manager has been made redundant and his six member team is about to merge with mine, under my control. I have no experience in this teams area. I have limited rapport with the team or understanding of its dynamics. With the manager's sudden exit, I will have to rely on the team members to help me understand their roles.

How can I set their KPIs without knowing their roles, gain their respect and lead this new team through a turbulent time in our organization?

11 Expert Insights

You need to develop a team transition plan. This doesn't have to be overly formal, but it should lay out what you will plan to do over the next few weeks. The goal should be to successfully integrate the six team members into your team and for all of them to get to know you, and vice versa.

Here are some suggested items for your plan:

--Bring all six together to let them know you are their new boss
--Get their current job descriptions from HR and review them; if they don't have JDs (or they are woefully out of date and not reflective of what they do today) then ask each team member to create a JD (suggest providing them with a one-page JD template so you get consistency)
--Review their latest performance reviews and development plans
--Meet with each 1:1 to understand what they do, how they've been measured and rewarded in the past
--Meet with all of the key stakeholders of the six-person team (i.e., their internal customers, partners, and suppliers) to understand how the team operates and who the players are
--Bring them together with the rest of the team members you manage to formally introduce them as part of the larger team
--Host a "lunch and learns" where the new team members can present what they do to you and the rest of the team members
--Provide a few social/informal activities over the coming months where the six new team members can get to know your existing team members

There is  much more, but those are a few items to get you started.

Dear New Manager of a Suddenly Larger Team:

I invite you to notice that you have already answered much of your own question.  I quote: "I will have to rely on the team members to help me understand their roles."  

If you have no expertise in their technical area, I'm guessing that someone in the organization who made this decision is not expecting you to show up as an SME; rather, they look to you to provide this team with some leadership and support.  So, use the most powerful tool of Leadership, which is conversation.  

Oh, and trust. Trust these are people who probably know what they need, if you just ask.  Sit down with them as a team and as individuals and ask for their help in making the transition, just as you offer your help to them.  Ask to see prior information on KPIs and performance metrics.  Perhaps even invite/challenge them -- as individuals and as a team -- to draft performance objectives for themselves and for the overall team, then use that as a basis for conversation to agree on what the final numbers and metrics will be.  

In other words, don't assume you have to know more than they do.  They know a lot, and they don't need you to KNOW. They need you to LEAD and help them do their jobs.  

In developing a transition action plan of your new team, the following are my recommendations in order to realize your team’s performance now and for future projects. Understanding the expectations of your team will help you understand the team better.

• Bring all of the team members together and discuss who you are and where you fit in within this new assignment.
• Set up a specific time for team meeting even for a 15-20 minute period each week.
• Find out the performance of the team and how they may be able to improve. Can the team set their own performance level?
• Obtain a copy of each team member’s specific job description.
• Meet with each team member to talk with you how they work within the team.
• Discuss with the team trust issues they may have with you. Let them know they can rely on you as long as you follow up with them also. Deliver on the promises you make.
• Depending on the strengths, skills and talent of your team members, connect the goal(s) and objectives of the organization with the work the team is working on.
• Discover how you may be able to expand their role to be more extraordinary in creating and producing breakthrough results if that is in the realm of the work they do.
• As a team, find out how well they work together and cooperate with each other in order to rely on each other when they may need assistance in specific areas that may be a challenge or of difficulty.

Finally, let your team go through their daily routine before you decide to make any changes to what they already do.

"How can I set their KPIs without knowing their roles, gain their respect and lead this new team through a turbulent time in our organization?" - As it stands now, you can't.  If you attempt to do so without engaging in your own discovery process (listening and learning) and engaging the team to build mutual understanding re: charter, requisite skills, roles, inter-dependencies, how you can best support their work and establishing group norms (the ways things really get done), it will compromise your credibility as their leader.  

Recommend: 1) doing your homework to understand the charter, work and value proposition of this group in context of the business, how they can best be integrated into your group to offer greatest value and get clear re: what expertise you're bringing to the table as a leader (=credibility); 2) talk with all team members to learn about them - professionally and personally  - their skills, interests and passions, and their own vision of how this integration can be made optimally successful; and 3) bring the whole group together for a 1/2 day or whole day offsite to develop clarity on charter, value proposition, inter-dependencies, deliverables and KPI's...  - as well as the 'soft' side such as collectively desired group norms - and shape agreements re: your expectations as leader, behaviors and values you want to see in the group,  and defining how you can best support their efforts.  (competent facilitation to help with design/facilitation would likely be helpful, freeing you up to participate most fully in the dialogues).  If you demonstrate sincere effort to learning, engaging and leading with integrity and knowledge (and wisdom), the team will see this, appreciate your effort and be willing to follow.  (As Warren Bennis said, the one defining quality of a leader is that they have followers).  -- Good Luck.  Happy to help should you be interested in exploring further.

If I found myself in this situation and focused on KPIs, I would fail miserably.  My formula for leadership success is simple, respect my team members as professionals and individuals. I have found 95% of people I have the pleasure to work with were motivated by feeling respected.  The other 5% were problems that I could not influence and time enabled them to move on to other teams, so any performance problems took care of themselves.  I would focus on understanding each new member to your organization with one-on-one conversations.  After 90 days, then I would look at KPIs.

Your success will be won or lost by how well you can earn their trust. You begin that process by being transparent about what you know and don't know and about your expectations. Further, you listen deeply to their ideas and concerns. If your actions stay consistent with your speaking, and if you invest your own political capital in their ideas, and give them the credit, you will get the early success you need while you figure out this part of the business.  Good luck!

I would agree with the advice above. The other challenge is going to be bringing both teams together, to work together as a new team. And also dealing with unease - as morale is going to go down for both sides of this new team.

Whenever I have had a team rapidly expand I have done two things to help. The first is to let the team know, during a team meeting or training, that whenever new team members join a team, there will be a period of uneasiness. And that this is normal.  I literally walk the team through the Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing model - so that people can understand that the feelings they are having now are natural. And - even more important - that they will pass, and things will get back to a new "normal."

Second - I make sure to incorporate a few team building sessions inside our team.  This can simply be a lunch where everyone is interacting.  By this I mean - I do some sort of discovery exercise for the team.  Maybe it's a tell us about yourself slide - about your outside interests. Or maybe it's a game.  Depends on the team that makes the team have to interact together in order to solve a puzzle or win.  By doing those two things - often the short team building exercise prior to a team lunch, will help make the team feel more together.

I would also advise, even though I'm sure you already have it covered, that you don't manage to rumor or complaints.  And that while you have an open door policy, that you don't allow negative team behaviors to form. Simply by not reacting to them, and gently and lovingly moving people back to a position of solution and collaboration.  

Organizational transition can be tough.  And not everyone is going to shine their best at all times, when they are feeling threatened and unsure of their own job. So doing these things should help make the path a little less rocky.

I recommend you understand the overall team KPIs (as aligned with the overall organizational objectives) - should be tied to the team goals and likely some sort of required output. It would be best if you could get input from your boss on expectations and his/her concerns about this other team.

I would connect the organizations goals for the team with the input from the team members. I strongly recommend getting their input BEFORE setting any goals as they should understand the overall objectives, risks, strengths and weaknesses. If you do not get their input you put yourself and the team at risk.

I would recommend you make your own assessment based on input from the boss and the team about best course of action to move forward. After you do your assessment it will be time to circle back with your boss and the team to make sure everyone is clear on the objectives, understands your direction (and why) and can get behind the direction you have set. Gaining respect of all involved will be important. If you find you have team members who will not support you and/or your direction, you will need to determine the appropriate course of action just as you will reward those who quickly get to work and deliver results.  

congrats on your new role. In addition to the great advice from my colleagues re: how to lead your new team. I'd add:

1. Manage up to your manager and manage their expectations. get strategic priorities clear with your manager, tell your team what they are and ask their ideas and plans for how to achieve them.  this is your job as Leader, not manager.

2. Accelerate revealing the talents, skills and motivations of your team with some data. If they've done an assessment that reveals this data, (I prefer Performance Style & Ambitions) and you haven't, take the assessment and get some assistance for how to explore your data with the team. Revealing yourself first is a great way to "model the way" for others to do as well.

3. Request support for being effective in this new role, spend the money on a coach. It's an investment that you, the team and your org will benefit from.

All the best!

I believe strongly that KPI's should be jointly set with your new team members.  Making them part of the process will greatly ease your transition while providing a greater platform for buy-in to your goals and objectives.

You have been given some powerful and meaningful advice from my colleagues.  

The only additional suggestion I have it to take both teams through a team building activity - one that focuses on learning each other's behavioral preferences.  This will help (you and the team members) understand how to relate, communicate, problem solve and manage healthy relationships with one another - not to mention it is just a fun process.  

I recommend using the tool Emergenetics.  It is easy to apply the tool and provides a language that people really use.  You can learn more about it here: