Re: Transitional Leadership – Adopting a Team

· by Herb Dew

Herb is the CEO of HTI. He founded HTI in 1999 along with John Knight and David Sewell, and remains heavily involved in the organization today.
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There’s always complexity, and at times difficulty, when a manager takes over a new team that they have not personally selected and developed.

This is not uncommon – it happens all the time when leaders move to new organizations or transfer into different departments. So, what are some things leaders can do to avoid the pitfalls of transitional leadership? How can they set themselves up to be successful in managing a newly acquired team?

I’ve seen leadership transitions be highly successful, and I’ve seen leadership transitions come off poorly. In almost every instance, the transitions that were successful had three key ingredients:

  1. The new leader invested time initially, being vulnerable with their team and getting to know each person and their story.
  2. The new leader established clear priorities, direction, and authority. This is critical to ensure everyone understands what is important, what their role is, and what the expectations are.
  3. The new leader began with the assumption that everyone wanted to succeed in their role and worked to learn each person’s unique contributions.

In both the first and third component, the emphasis is on the leader moving towards the employees; both getting to know them as people, and also understanding their value as team members. Unsuccessful leaders often make the mistake of establishing their authority without taking the time to invest in their people. They miss the opportunity to understand their lives as well as their strengths and challenges in each of their roles.

One common mistake I’ve noticed a leader can make during a leadership transition is trying to mirror their past successes with completely different teams.

I would challenge leaders on this; understand that people are different, and departments are different. Understanding the culture of your team is part of how you will connect with and ultimately be successful with them.

Just as companies can operate very differently, teams and departments within companies operate very differently as well; they have unique needs and things that make them successful, and there are often different personalities within the team. Setting clear goals and objectives, running meetings effectively, and being strong on accountability and follow-through are fundamental leadership qualities. Yet it’s also important to be flexible and willing to “feel” the difference in how your department runs. Avoid rushing into making changes too quickly, thus creating a lot of disruption that’s not necessary until you understand the feel of the team.

We have begun the full movement out of the old traditional hierarchy of teams.

As Millennials move into leadership, and GenZ-ers move into the workforce at a more rapid pace, “connection” will become an essential element of a leader’s ability to take over a team effectively. Then continuing to run that team effectively without disruption. It’s difficult to transition and take over a team that you’ve not personally selected and trained. Over time, new leaders in new departments can begin to make the changes they see are necessary. Then through turnover or promotions can begin to select, promote, and train individuals who are more closely connected to them. But, it’s important to understand that, almost always, you are going to adopt teams that have worked for other leaders. Thus the time you spend getting to know those people and establishing relationships is critical to your success as you move into leadership.