The last few months have been a tough and turbulent time for many of us. But, there is always an opportunity in crisis, so many of us have also found ourselves in moving on to new roles, new industries, or on entirely new career paths over the past year.
For those who have made the jump into management, leadership or team supervision — congratulations! Being a leader in the workplace is one of the most rewarding and impactful roles you can play in life, and if done right, has the potential to nurture and grow your team into something bigger than the sum of its parts and help ensure that everyone can find value and meaning in their work.
If you are an experienced leader or manager, this article might not be for you. But if you’ve recently found yourself with a new team or department to lead, this article will provide some solid recommendations on some steps to take and the books that will help.
Step one: you need a plan.
No matter if you are an experienced manager going in to restructure a department, or a new manager taking on a small team for the first time, you need to start developing and writing down a 90-day plan.
Your 90-day plan is the tool you will use to communicate your vision to your new team members and check alignment with your new boss and stakeholders. While a few notes scribbled on some notepaper will do in a pinch, it usually pays to put the work into setting this up as something like a PowerPoint presentation or Excel spreadsheet — it will be easier to keep updated and share more broadly as you learn more about your new role and it’s expectations.
The book I have found most helpful here has been “The First 90 Days” by Michael D Watkins. I found this book to be a practical and readily implementable reference when doing many kinds of transitions: taking over as a leader, entering a new site as a consultant, or kicking off a new project. It contains helpful worksheets and checklists that will keep you on track and provide frameworks for everything a new leader might need to do: engaging stakeholders, communicating your vision, resolving conflict and much more.
Step two: get to know your team.
Once you have a plan as a new leader, your plan's first steps will usually focus on getting to know your new team and building credibility and trust with them. There are many ways to do this, and there is usually a focus on achieving some visible big wins early in your transition to build goodwill and momentum for yourself in your new role.
But if your goal is to get to know your team and understand them better, there is nothing that beats a regular, old-fashioned face-to-face conversation. In a pinch, Microsoft Teams or Zoom might do, but it is always worth the effort getting together in person if the situation and health conditions safely allow. Taking the time to catch up one-on-one with each of your team members once every week or two is the more surefire way to build rapport and establish credibility. It also helps keep the whole team aligned with your vision and task priorities, and by actively listening to your team, you’ll get a better understanding of who they are and the work they do.
This is the more practical, hands-on side of management, and I’ve found “Effective Manager” by Mark Horstman to be an excellent guide to it. This is a frank, well researched and low-fluff book that offers simple yet detailed instructions on retaining your people and getting work done in your team.
Step three: grow every one.
If you believe Effective Manager's teachings, most management has essentially two goals: retain your people, and get the work done. A powerful way to retain people is to offer them opportunities to grow and learn. People tend to be generally more interested in different and novel tasks, and learning is a wonderful way to scratch that itch for “something different”.
You could offer small opportunities for growth through small tasks: pushing down monthly reporting or management tasks, giving opportunities to present at a meeting to a more junior team member, or encouraging the team to experiment with a new potential approach or exciting technology.
Or it could be bigger goals, including supporting team members in gaining technical certifications, pursuing further study or research, or completing PD courses.
Supporting people to learn and grow is something we should all do outside of our immediate team too — there are usually opportunities to offer mentoring, coaching or advice to colleagues in other teams or other projects — growing their skills and your broader awareness of your company or organisation in the process. This helps build a more open and broader learning culture across your organisation and empowers teams with a more creative and “can-do” attitude as their skillsets and perspectives continue to expand.
Getting into this habit of mentoring and coaching takes a while to pay dividends sometimes, but it always pays off in the end. As the people around you start to become more senior, they can take on some of the tasks currently on your plate. Other teams that you rely on become more efficient and easier to deal with. Stakeholders who you have great relationships with are moved into more senior roles, providing further access and opportunities.
“The Coaching Habit” by Michael Bungay Stanier was instrumental in defining how I approach this. It provides a philosophy and an approach to guiding and coaching people that is easy to follow and build into a habit that becomes automatic. I’ve used some of these coaching skills not just in the workplace, but in many situations more broadly in life where someone just needed a friendly ear to bounce off a decision, challenge or brilliant new idea.
I hope this article is helpful to some of the new managers out there who might be a bit lost in their new role and struggling with the transition. My goal is to write some more articles about organisational culture, team leadership and managing a sustainable flow of work over the next few months.
Thank you for reading, have a wonderful new year, and I hope to have the next article out to you all soon!