Taking Over a Team

Photo of eight people at an office table with computers, phones, and tablets. Two people, man and woman, shaking hands across table.

Stepping in as the new leader of a pre-existing team is a delicate situation. Opportunity and risk are entwined and closely balanced.

Be Alert

You don’t usually get hired to manage a smooth, well-oiled machine. It’s a rescue, and your first job is to figure out where the problems are.

Watch how people act in meetings.

Watch how people act during crises.

Watch who leads and who obstructs.

Look for Clues

  • the org chart with half the names misspelled
  • the pile of unpaid invoices under the desk
  • the way people avoid certain subjects

Find the pain.


Meet with everyone one-on-one right away.

Ask them what is working well and what needs to be changed.

Listen carefully. Don’t accept everything your hear as gospel.

The “good old days” weren’t all that rosy, and the “boss from hell” may have had a few redeeming qualities.

Withhold Judgment Until You Learn the History

You don’t know what pressures, constraints or insane management directives played into decisions which now appear just plain crazy.

Find out why. Don’t assume.

Resist simple explanations: it isn’t usually a morality play or one person’s fault.

Read the team’s resumes and past performance reviews if you can get them, but judge the folks as you find them, not by paper. People change.

Action – Being an Effective Change Agent

Once you do have a grip on what needs fixing, take a deep breath.

Sequence is everything. Pick one or two things at a time.

Sell the team on the changes before you make them. Ideally some of the early changes are things the team itself suggested during your set of one-on-one meetings.

Don’t hesitate to adjust or abandon a change that isn’t working.

Parlay cheap early wins into backing for tackling larger, more controversial changes.

This article was originally posted to LinkedIn