With a shiny new title, an office, and your very own team of employees, landing your first management gig is a pretty exciting time for you and your career. But as a new manager, you can't focus on you anymore—now, everything is about your direct reports.
So before you start changing processes, adding efficiencies, and whipping the department into shape, it’s vital that you spend some time getting to know your team members. Why? Because once you’re on comfortable terms with the people you’re managing, you’ll have a much better idea of how to motivate and coach them—which will make your new job a whole lot easier.
If you’re not quite sure how to spark these conversations—or even what to talk about—don’t worry. I’ve been there, too. And I’ve learned a few ways to get to know a new team on both a professional and personal level.
1. Schedule One-on-Ones
Over the first few days of your management role, block out some time for short one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports. If you’re brand new to the team, this will give you a chance to introduce yourself individually to each of your employees. But even if you worked your way into the position and are familiar with the team already, this can be the perfect opportunity to dig in and find out some vital information.
In my conversations with my direct reports, I found it useful to learn more about their backgrounds—both with the company and in prior jobs. I asked how long they’d been in their current position, the sorts of jobs they’d had before, and what they enjoyed doing most. They told me about the projects they were currently working on and what they hoped to do more of in the future, including their eventual career goals.
And as we spoke, more information naturally spilled out. They were quick to mention what they hoped to see change in the department, where they saw gaps in knowledge or process, and areas in which they thought they could use more training.
All in all, it was a chance for them to open up to me—which not only helped form a bond between us, but also gave me a better idea of the areas to focus on as I began my role.
2. Join a Project or Group Discussion
One of my first management positions was with a cleaning and concierge service startup—but even though my official job title was “manager,” for the first few days, I was put to work with the team. I tagged along with a couple employees and participated in their daily tasks—cleaning houses, running errands, and talking with customers.
Spending the day with them helped me quickly understand the ins and outs of the business, daily processes, and team dynamics—but more importantly, it was a fantastic bonding opportunity. (What else is there to do while you scrub a toilet, besides talk to the person who’s scouring the bathtub right next to you?) And as a bonus, I immediately proved to my team that I didn’t consider myself above their daily duties.
The takeaway is this: To get to know your team quickly (and make a great first impression), jump into a project or group discussion with small teams of employees. Working side-by-side with them will not only help you learn the business and get in the know about ongoing projects, but you’ll also learn your employees' working styles, communication preferences, and personalities.
With that information, you’ll be able to move into making decisions and changes strategically—with a knowledge of what works and what doesn’t and a good idea of how your employees will react.
3. Get a Candy Jar
After those initial interactions, your key to keep building those relationships is simple: Get a candy jar.
OK, I’m just kidding—sort of. You see, having a candy jar on your desk makes it easy to strike up conversations because it pretty much guarantees that you’ll have employees stopping by your desk regularly and often. But candy jar or not, the point is to maintain consistent communication on a daily basis.
Sure, one-on-one meetings are essential and should be a regular occurrence to discuss questions, issues, and individual progress. But daily conversations—even in a casual sense—are just as important. Your employees should feel comfortable approaching your desk to ask questions, discuss a project, or let you know what they have on their plates.
By the same token, you should be able to stop by their workspaces to do the same. As you move around the floor and approach employees’ desks, ask them to show you what they’re working on or provide you with a status update. You can also take this as an opportunity to get to know them on a more casual level, learning about their families, friends, and hobbies.
Of course, use good judgment here—if you spend too much time on casual chatter, they may wonder why you don’t have more important work to do. But if you keep a healthy balance (for example, I like to strike up more casual conversations as everyone is arriving in the morning, but gravitate towards business-oriented topics near the end of the day), you’ll get a more complete picture of each employee.
Getting to know your employees will do wonders for your management career—you’ll learn how to divvy up projects, the best ways to coach and confront each person, and what really makes them excited to come to work each day. And with that knowledge, you’ll be able to bring out the best in your team—which will bring out the best in you, as a manager.