So, what do you do first? Your first day on the job as the new leader of your team. Well, here is the guidance I promised you in this post. You are now the team leader, you have a team of three members. You were just promoted to a team leader, you still will have some software engineering tasks, but you will likely be spending about 50+% on leadership responsibilities.
Your job as a communicator starts now. So before we dive into the remaining post posts on leadership, verbal and written communication, let’s continue with our post scenario, your first day on the job. So before you rush out and talk to your customers and jump in and solve problems you think you know the answers to, I recommend the following. It’s critical to devote time and energy to establishing how you want your team to work, not just what you want them to work on and achieve.
The first few weeks are critical because people will start forming opinions pretty quickly and these opinions tend to be hard to change later. So if you don’t take time up front to figure out how to get the team working well, problems are always going to come up. Let’s get to know each other. You know, one of your first priorities should be to get to know your team members and to encourage them to get to know each other even. Resist the urge to immediately start talking about the work and the tasks and focus instead on fostering solidarity, harmony, and team work. You might consider holding an offsite or some beginning meetings with team building exercises.
For virtual teams, people working remotely, it might mean starting calls by getting updates on how each person is doing or hosting virtual get-to-know-each-other meetings. Show what you stand for. Use your initial interactions with team members as an opportunity to showcase your values. Who are you? Explain what’s behind your decisions, what your priorities are, and how you would evaluate the team’s performance, you know, individually or collectively as a team. Walk them through what metrics you might use to gauge their progress so that they understand how they’ll be evaluated and what’s expected of them. Team members always want to know how you will define success for the team. So by communicating your vision and values, you will show your team that they are committed to an open-door policy, transparency, and create a positive momentum around yourself and your new role.
You will also need to explain in detail how you want the team to work. When you have newer team members coming on board, don’t assume that veteran team members will explain to the new recruits, the new hires, how meetings are supposed to be run or the best ways to ask for help. It’s your job as a leader to set expectations and explain processes. If you don’t make those norms clear for everyone, you risk creating an environment where people feel excluded, uncertain, or unwilling to contribute. Set and clarify your goals. One of your most important tasks as a team leader is to set ambitious but achievable goals, stretch people. Make clear what the team is working toward and how you expect it to get there, and by setting these goals early on, the group’s decision making will be clear and more efficient because they’ll know what the goals are and you’ll lay the framework for holding team members accountable. I’m a big believer in accountability and don’t be afraid early on here to over communicate.
If there is one thing that new leaders need to remember, it’s that over communication, over communicating, in the early days is preferable to the alternative. It’s always best to start with a little more structure, more touch points, more check-ins at the beginning, how are you doing, what’s going on? I’ve never considered or encountered a situation where a team member says, boy, I wish the boss would stop communicating with me; I’m really tired of hearing from him. So you shouldn’t want to hear that, and look for early wins. Identifying and solving a business problem that has quick and dramatic impact early will show that you can listen and get things done. Make sure you do this as a team from listening to the inputs of your team. Maybe there is a longstanding employee frustration or issue or an outdated work process. Maybe there is a project that you can easily fund or prioritize, so taking quick action demonstrates that you are connecting and learning, but most importantly, achieving an early win builds team momentum. It motivates people and you can win good will you might need later if the going gets tough, but don’t do it in a vacuum. You know, talk and communicate, listen, and get their ideas and try to implement their ideas. This will build trust, trust is huge.
Okay, there are a few things I want to share as well of what you should not do. Here are the don’ts. Some tips. Don’t try to accomplish the work without first building relationships with the team. You’ve just been promoted, I know you have a lot on your plate, but be patient, speak with everyone individually, and as a group, understand the group, understand the issues, and understand the work that’s on the table from their viewpoint. Don’t assume that your team members understand how you or others work. Take the time to explain processes and your expectations. When they understand your expectations, that helps drive quality work towards your goals. Don’t be afraid to communicate early on and repeatedly. You do not want your team to be unsure, lost or confused, or not listened to. What you don’t want to hear from your team is, what is he doing? What does she think? You want to make sure that that’s very clear about who you are and what you’re trying to do.