Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

How Smart Managers Win Over New Teams (Without Bringing in Free Food)

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A client of mine who’s in his first management role vented: “I’ve spent the past year making up for a few innocent mistakes I made in the first 20 days. I had no idea this would be so hard.

Winning over a team is hard. Any time employees have to adapt to a new manager, they may in fact be “touchy.”

No matter how sensitive you try to be, and how much you try to avoid new manager mistakes, just being there might send shock waves through the team.

Don’t take it personally: It’s just part of how teams work. The introduction of any new person—including a leader—requires the group to do a collective reset. With that said, you can control how your employees gets to know you as their manager (and you should).

Here are five proven tactics that help you win them over.

1. Celebrate the Team’s Accomplishments

School yourself on the history of the team by asking each person what he or she’s most proud of to date.

Ask about successes (and failures) and how those events have impacted people. As you learn about those things that make the team strong, celebrate them. For example, are there any traditions to acknowledge top performers or hitting new milestones? If everyone enjoys team lunch after something major is wrapped or getting a shout-out in a department-wide email, don’t feel like you have to establish new ways to mark success.

Not just that, but people will remember what you do first. If you begin by acknowledging what’s working, as opposed to leading with criticism, people will be more excited to work with you.

2. Understand the Team Culture

Culture—the beliefs, assumptions and unwritten rules that guide and inform people’s behavior—is a sensitive thing. Do your best to not judge as you learn about it.

No one likes being told their culture is wrong or broken (even if it is). For example, maybe people have a habit of chatting across their desks all day long, and you think it’d be an instantly more productive environment if these conversation were moved online or to set times on the calendar.

Don’t enforce a “no-interrupting” policy on day one. While your goal is to help everyone work more efficiently, they’ll view you as someone who’s instantly upending their workflow.

A smarter move is to wait and talk to team members about how you think this shift will be helpful. Instead of rushing to make culture changes, take the time to make everyone feel like they’re a part of them.

3. Roll Up Your Sleeves (and Get to Work)

First impressions really do count, and people like to know their boss cares. Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and help out when the group’s under pressure to deliver and you can help.

In other words, be the leader who sits with the rest of team for a bit and stuffs envelopes on the day of a major mailing, or helps carry event materials from the service elevator along with everyone else.

Taking part in that no-fun but highly necessary team activity shows you don’t believe you’re too good to do the hard, mundane tasks. It’ll make talk about being a team player that much more believable, because you’ve already demonstrated you mean it.

4. Go First

Don’t hang back waiting for the people on your team to come meet you: Seek them out.

Remember, one of people’s top desires is to be seen and acknowledged (by their boss, but also, generally). When you start, do some managing by walking around. Introduce yourself, and ask questions.

It may be awkward at first, but introducing yourself and meeting people on their own turf is a great first step to build trust and credibility with your employees.

5. Create a Team Credo

A credo is a descriptive and compelling statement of the beliefs and values that guide the team’s actions. Over time, you’ll want to take what you learn about the team and their work to form of a credo—and invite them to help you create it!

A design group that was part of an urban planning firm created a credo that read like this: “We exist to design meaningful play spaces for kids and communities. Though we are architects, artists and designers, we are community organizers at heart. Our commitment to excellence and each other is what fuels us, and when we do those things well our clients pay us.”

That statement motivated the team each day, and helped them feel more like a unit.

Winning over a new team—especially a well-established one—takes humility, patience, and restraint.

And remember, even if you’re the most experienced leader, it never hurts to brush up on your skills by seeking out advice, reading a leadership book (here are seven great options), or even taking one of these management classes.

Most important of all, give the team time to get to know you and accelerate the process by being curious and appreciative.