Q: I was hired to lead a team that had been a self-directed work group. The people are all experienced professionals, but there were issues with providing a consistent experience for our clients. They're not taking well to my leadership — what can I do to get them on board?
A: Honor their experience and contributions, while also setting clear expectations.
The inner game
Set yourself up for success by setting a clear vision for the team. Can you articulate what you hoped to achieve when you took the position? How about what your boss wanted when you were hired?
Get specific about the performance of the self-directed team. It's important to understand the weaknesses, which motivated your firm to hire you. For each aspect that was an issue, consider solutions. Then give thought to reasons your team members may resist these solutions.
Understand the team's strengths, too. If you can continue to give responsibility in areas that were previously successful, you may reduce resistance to other changes.
Evaluate the approaches you've used as you ramp up in your new role. If you came in with a club, you probably didn't create any allies. Or, if you came in too conciliatory, you may be perceived as weak. Either way, members of the team who may have been open to change may be disappointed in the experience so far. Don't just rely on your self-perception; also talk to your boss or colleagues outside the team to get additional feedback. Also consider finding a neutral person to interview all team members about the team — past, present and future — so you have objective information to build on.
The outer game
Start with individual conversations with your team. Encourage them to be candid about the new direction — your job is to be an open listener so be careful not to shut them down. Be clear and direct yourself, as well. If they are breaking new processes or resisting change in ways that damage the team, share your concerns. But put most of your focus on getting their ideas on the strengths they bring and the best solutions.
Because the concerns are team level, bring the situation to the team, laying out your perceptions and challenging them to step up to create a dynamic, mutually supportive, and successful environment. If you've done a team assessment, share the overall results, being careful to protect individual privacy. You might want to start with a relatively brief session to tee up a longer-term agenda for change, and for establishing roles and responsibilities that each person or small groups can take on. Then move to a more extensive off-site meeting to settle on plans and approaches, and set up ongoing discussion to keep change on track.
You may find that some folks are not willing or able to get on board with the new approaches. If building on their strengths and providing other support doesn't work, be firm on holding them accountable. The team they were hired into is gone, and they may wish to find a new opportunity that's a better fit.
The last word
Combine accountability and celebration as your team jells in a constructive new way.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at email@example.com.