What to Do When Handed a Bad Team?

Joe Weinlick
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It's never easy to replace a manager, particularly as an outside hire — when you inherit a bad team, you face even more challenges. Fortunately, a struggling staff is only a roadblock. With thoughtful leadership, you can transform your new team into a tight, high-performing group.

Assess the Situation

When you take over as a manager at a new company, it can be tempting to start making changes immediately. A better approach is to take time to assess the situation. After all, a bad team isn't created in a vacuum — chances are, company policies, accepted traditions and higher-level executives all contributed to the problem. Watch team members in action, taking note of how they behave, interact and do their jobs. Compare this to other teams at the company, and talk to senior management to gain a big-picture understanding. An objective survey of the people and culture can help you make smarter decisions and avoid violating unwritten rules unwittingly.

Explain the Problems

For employees, it's difficult to get on board when a new manager starts making changes without explaining his rationale. Once you finish your assessment, sit down with the team and explain your findings. Lay out key problems and explain how they are affecting performance. Tread carefully: avoid direct accusations, and use solid data to prove your claims. In doing so, you can prevent individuals on the bad team from becoming defensive or shutting down.

Open Lines of Communication

After your initial conversation about problems on a bad team, allow time for each person to process the information and cool down. Then, start a dialogue to open the lines of communication. Talk through each issue as a group, and ask for the team members' perspectives and suggestions. Discuss potential solutions, and make sure that each person understands that your door is open. If you notice problems that stem from an individual's behavior, discuss the issue in private to avoid public embarrassment. This process helps you build trust, understand group dynamics and gather useful ground-level insight, which is an essential part of turning a bad team into a great team.

Make and Implement a Plan

Armed with your observations, data and team input, make a plan that addresses your team's biggest problems. If one person is causing a bottleneck, you might redistribute some of his tasks or redesign the workflow to increase productivity. Use key influencers or peacemakers in key positions to address issues with interpersonal relationships or office politics. Whatever changes you decide to make, move slowly and with transparency to avoid upheaval in your new company. After all, many small changes over time lead to a smoother, longer-lasting transition.

Inheriting a bad team is an exciting opportunity for transformation. By taking your time and working with employees, you can implement effective and enduring changes.

Photo Courtesy of WoodleyWonderWorks at Flickr.com


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