New to team leadership: where to start?

Starting a new role in team leadership can be both exciting and challenging.

As a team leader, you need to be visible to the team and available to support them. Your prime role is to support your people, remove barriers and help them succeed. Part of your new leadership role is to foster a positive working environment and team community. If you are to take on or continue to be focused on your own hands-on tasks, you won’t be as visible or able to support your team. This is often a hard lesson to learn for those new to leading a team.

It can be even more daunting if you have been thrust into such a role, with scant management experience, and little to no formal training in either leadership or management.  I have come across several instances of this recently, and the common question a person new to team leadership asks is – where to start?

Below are some tips to help you navigate this transition successfully.

Build relationships and seek to understand your team:

  • Encourage team members also to get to know each other better – foster camaraderie.
  • Seek to understand the existing team dynamics. How functional are they as a team, and what is working and not working amongst them that is impacting on their functionality?

Suggested approaches:

  1. Meet with each team member and just focus on getting to know them. Listen well. A conversation structured around the following questions is a good place to start.
    • How long have they been in the organization, and the role?
    • What is their history?
    • What is important to them – life and work?
      • What is working for them in their current role?
      • What isn’t working so well?
      • What are the challenges they face?
  2. Hold social gatherings for the team – a team lunch, after work drinks etc
  3. Introduce a check-in at the beginning of team meetings. This is where
    you ask each person to share something that they enjoyed doing in the
    last month or similar.  It purpose is to frequently in small ways
    provide opportunities for team members to get to know each other better.
  4. Over time consider introducing more opportunities for personal sharing in team settings, leading by modelling your own openness and vulnerability.
  5. Create opportunities for carefully designed team building sessions.

Set expectations and lead by example:

Clearly communicate your expectations of roles, responsibilities and approaches to working as a team

Ensure that each team member understands how they contribute to the overall team success

Think about the behaviors you want and expect from your team members. Be sure to exhibit those traits yourself.

Communicate openly and frequently:

If there’s one thing that new managers need to remember, it’s that over-communicating in the early days is preferable to the alternative.

  • Keep your door open – be approachable so that team members feel comfortable asking you questions or raising concerns.
  • Be open, honest and passionate. Treat everyone on the team fairly, with respect and without favouritism and you’ll find those behaviors returned. Never undermine or criticize other individuals or departments in front of the team.
  • Be receptive to new ideas.
  • Be adaptable and open to adjusting your approach based on the unique characteristics of your team.

Start with “why” and clarify team goals:

Have conversations with the team about why the team exists?  What is its purpose? Often a good way to tackle this is to challenge them with – well what would happen if this team ceased to exist?

If they can develop a shared understanding of why they exist – then the next conversation is – so what do we want to achieve?  And, how do we want to be seen as a team by the organization? This may not be easy to answer without the team doing some significant work together to identify clearly what is it that they need to achieve – both in the short and longer term.

Celebrate successes:

Look for opportunities for some quick wins for the whole team.

Acknowledge and celebrate both individual and team achievements. This can be anything from a simple “thank you”, acknowledgement at team meeting, or something more such as a special morning tea.

Resource yourself and develop your leadership style:

You cannot hope to influence others unless you are well resourced and build your own self-confidence as a leader.

Seek out support, advice, help. This can take many forms. 

  • Start reading and informing yourself
  • Find a mentor – someone with experience in leading teams
  • Seek out personal coaching
  • Investigate formal development programs

Regularly seek feedback from your team. A “Keep, Stop, Start” conversation is a useful way to do this – what should I keep doing, what should I stop doing and what can I start doing that would make it easier to perform your role.  (This can also be used as a way of providing mutual feedback!)

Leadership is not a one-size-fits-all role, and it’s essential to adapt your approach based on the unique characteristics of your team and the challenges you face. Regular self-reflection and a commitment to continuous improvement will contribute to your success as a team leader.

Jill Tideman

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