Setting up team mechanics

Attend to the following to ensure both smooth team working and to present yourself and your team in the most professional light:

Set up team calendar

Set up a single wall or online calendar which will include all regular commitments that both you and members of your team have in place. Check the boss’s calendar for weekly and monthly events that you may be asked to prepare for or cover. Ask your boss’s secretary to make sure you have everything of any importance, such as periodical meetings or annual meetings that might not yet be calendared. Make this calendar as complete as you can in your first week or two, and certainly before setting a date and time for your regular team meeting, which should, for the first few weeks, be weekly.

Team meetings

For the first few weeks, you may not feel as though you have much to report, and that a team meeting would be a waste of everybody’s time. Management tomes are quick to state that you should not hold a team meeting unless it has a purpose. However, this is the time when you need to put in effort to build trust, so hold a brief round-up of progress each week.

Share what you are doing, including interesting people you’ve met and who you will be meeting (even if you are not able yet to say much about the tasks ahead of you) each week and encourage team members to do the same with what they have on hand. Even in close knit teams, there can be remarkable blind spots about what is happening, as people tend to keep primarily to their own brief. Facilitate people chipping in with offers of help, support, connections or information. Let the team know that these forums can also be used to bring work-based challenges to be worked on in group, whether it’s a brainstorm session, giving feedback on ideas for a deliverable or thrashing out a process.

Working together in group can also provide the opportunity for some light relief. Don’t worry if humour doesn’t come naturally to you; leave enough space for extended discussion now and then, laugh freely at what is funny, and you will quickly find that jokes – usually very bad ones – begin to multiply.

These meetings also provide an opportunity to demonstrate your management style – your team will quickly learn what’s important to you, how you like to work, what impresses you, what disappoints you from your reaction to what’s happening in the room. This cannot happen if you are a largely absent manager, popping in from time to time.

Don’t be too keen to drag everyone out for a team meal or off for team building in the first few weeks – these things can become stilted and awkward if the participants don’t have any basis for social dialogue ahead of time.

Set up reporting

Even if the organisation does not mandate it, reporting is a good discipline for a number of reasons. It enables you to keep tabs on what is happening, even if you have not been able to meet with your team as often as you would like. It focuses minds on targets and objectives.

Reporting also offers the opportunity to present your team in a more professional light to the rest of the organisation. If reporting is taking place by topic, discipline or people’s names, consider re-orienting reporting to reflect your or the team’s objectives, or even organisational objectives. This immediately adds value to the team by showing what it is contributing in a very direct way.

Manage growth

Teams with brand new targets and objectives are unavoidably experimental. As time goes on, you will need to watch workload, making sure that the objectives you set are practical and reasonable, and stepping in to adjust things if one or more people is beginning to struggle.

You may equally find that opportunities are opening up for people to demonstrate personal and professional growth. Adjust objectives so that individuals are rewarded for taking up these challenges. Be careful to check in with HR before making a commitment to money, promotion or training to ensure there are no organisational, cultural or policy reasons why you will not be able to stick by your word.

Proximity and technology

Aim to be reasonably co-located with your team, but if this is not possible investigate what technology is available to facilitate closer team working, such as teleconferencing and web-based conferencing. Methods you are familiar with from previous roles may be met at first with some trepidation by your new team members, so hold meetings face to face as often as possible in the first few months until everyone has their confidence with you.

Cut old managerial ties

If you inherit a team, particularly if the manager they were previously reporting to is still within the department or location, you may need to gently move the team on and establish yourself as their manager. If your team is still clinging to their old manager, try to be more immediately proximate to them, so that you are the first point they come to for help or advice, and not their old manager.

Most people will seek support from a second party only when they can’t get the response they need from their first choice, so make a real effort to keep up with email and voicemail, and keep an open door. If you will be committed for much of your day, set up a specific time of day or time within the week that you keep clear to deal with team queries, and make sure everyone knows they can reach you then (immediately after your team meeting is generally a good time).

If, after a few weeks they are still reverting to their old line manager, ask your team straightforwardly to bring their queries and issues to you. At the same time, ask the other manager to point your team members back to you rather than addressing the problem.

The bottom line is that you have to be your team’s most attractive option for getting problems solved and barriers removed. If the old manager is still being consulted after a few weeks, analyse what kinds of problems are being brought to them, and what you are not doing that your team needs you to be doing.