Leading a New Team: The Mindset for a Successful Transition

November 24, 2023

Starting a new job is stressful at the best of times, even when it’s an amazing job that you’re looking forward to and excited about. You have to acclimate to a new environment, with new colleagues, make relationships with a lot of people in a short time, all while trying to make a good impression and keep the job.

Starting a new job where you’ll be responsible for a group of people who you don’t know and who don’t know you is many degrees above that level of stress.

You have to be more careful about how you conduct yourself. When you’re responsible for assessing someone’s performance levels, and what kind of salary they get and you have the ability to shape and change the way their role is set up, those first few weeks can be fraught for both parties.

Just as you don’t know them and are focused on forming your first impressions, they don’t know you and have no idea what to expect from you.

43% of new managers who have been in their role for less than a year say they’ve had no training. If your company falls into that group, you have the power to change your circumstances. You can learn to lead meetings, understand your team’s motivators, get delegation right, and create your own 30-60-90 day plan.

Here’s an easy way to get started.

Leading a new team

Here’s an example scenario.

  1. The head of a marketing department leaves at short notice.
  2. Her replacement starts a week later and makes multiple, large decisions in a row that change the department’s structure.
  3. He makes many positions redundant, publicly, in front of the entire team.
  4. One of the people impacted bursts into tears and storms out of the room at work.
  5. Everyone in the department walks on eggshells for weeks afterward.

This is a situation that happened and caused weeks of stress for everyone involved. Once the changes settled, everyone got along with the new head and had minimal problems.

Much of these situations’ conflict can be avoided if decisions are made from a foundation of trust.

If people already know you, trust your judgment, and believe that you want to make decisions that work in everyone’s favor (and not just your own), there will automatically be less friction. Getting the first few weeks and months right creates an easier transition for everyone. It helps you build the kinds of relationships that can really withstand these types of situations.

The benefits of a plan for your transition

A smooth transition pays off on three levels: for you, for your team as a group, and for the individuals in your team.

  1. Start at a higher performance level. Extra stress means distractions that you can avoid, which automatically lowers your performance.
  2. Your team can adjust and perform faster. If your team is bogged down and stuck in conflicts, they’ll spend more energy managing those than focusing on their jobs.
  3. Enable each individual to succeed. Developing a foundation of trust means people will contribute and provide you with the input they (and you) need to have a successful working relationship.

Most 30-60-90 days plans are unrealistic because they focus on tasks or outcomes. These don’t make it possible for you to adjust based on the circumstances or handle emergencies if they come up.

This broad, big-picture plan will help you carry your team forward, no matter what you experience.

How to tackle the first months

There are three aspects to consider that will set you up for success:

  1. Adopt the right mindset geared towards growth.
  2. Structure your knowledge and impressions.
  3. Focus on the big picture.

Adopt the right mindset

Decide on your mindset before you start working in that role. These are some questions to consider:

  • How do you want to approach your position and your first months?
  • What are the most important things you want to achieve?
  • How long do you think it will take to achieve them?
  • What will help you achieve them?

Intentionality is a great starting point. If you intend to be humble and cautious, you’re more likely to succeed at it.

A practical example of mindset in action

Say your team has minimal structure and one of your responsibilities is to help them navigate their responsibilities–by providing that structure. You’ll need to:

  • Understand which processes they do have in place,
  • Ask which new processes are sorely needed, and
  • Improve the ones that exist but aren’t successful.

That means getting to know the people you’re working with and determining their priorities. But it also comes with some pitfalls: If the team needs structure, you might have to implement big changes immediately.

Consider what the right balance for you is. You want to make changes that are necessary and helpful while being a little cautious and holding back from changing anything that’s already working.

Structure your knowledge

Want an easy way to structure what you learn when you start a new job? Write down notes.

You have fresh eyes when you start in a new position. But because your first weeks are so busy, it’ll be hard to remember every small impression. You’re probably wasting brain space if you have the same thought twice. You don’t have to invest a huge amount in this. Find yourself some post-its, a notebook, a Google Doc–whatever tool lends itself naturally to you.

A practical example of structure in action

Take notes throughout your first week. At the end of the week, block out an hour or two to go through them. Now start clustering and structuring them in whatever way makes sense to you.

These are some questions to think about:

  • What will bring the most value to your team in the fastest period?
  • What has been neglected for a long time and is starting to hold the team back?
  • Are there any burning fires you need to handle immediately?
  • What parts are going well that you don’t want to touch?

You can use any format to answer these questions that works for you. Maybe you like mind-mapping tools because they’re easy to brainstorm or prefer a visual representation using a tool like Miro. Maybe you’d rather do it all on paper.

Focus on the big picture

Now you can escape the granular details and try to abstract the bigger picture.

The best way to figure this out is to look at the clusters you’ve collected so far, then consider:

  • Do any of these topics seem to have a huge positive impact on your team?
  • How can you get an immediate win?

Finding opportunities to work closely with your team early on will make it easier for you to get to know them better and quicker while giving you a chance to bond over a quick success. Set some short-term goals with a brief timeline for when you’d like to achieve them.

A practical example of abstracting the big picture

Say your team is working on too many tasks simultaneously without understanding their priorities in relation to each other. They feel a lack of purpose and are unable to finish projects.

  • Focus and direction are the big-picture problems you want to tackle.

Another example might be that your teammates don’t know each other well and feel disconnected. The result is a lack of trust and a desire to avoid conflict.

  • This is an opportunity to work on team-building and enable the team to work more closely together.

Defining the broader themes is the goal. Each of these issues might come up in 5-10 small ways. When you put them together, it becomes clear that there’s a bigger problem to deal with.

A detailed plan to lead a new team

Taking over a team with the right mindset saves all parties a ton of hassle. Following the steps above is a way to set yourself up for success with just a little work and effort.

If that level of detail isn’t enough and you want some tools to support you on your journey, check out these:

  • 30-60-90 day checklist as a new manager
  • Topics for your first one-on-ones
  • Team-building workshop ideas
  • The “5 Stages of Team Development”
  • Questions to get feedback from your team after the first 6 months


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