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Taking Over an Existing Team: What You Should Do First

Team Processes
New Manager

19 August, 2021

Young Kim
Young Kim

Sr Manager, Software Engineering at LinkedIn

Young Kim, Senior Manager, Engineering at LinkedIn, outlines key actions that a new manager should take after inheriting an existing team.

Problem

As an engineering leader at LinkedIn, I’ve stepped into leading existing teams several times – including when I first joined. Seeing a newcomer, especially from outside of the company, can create anxiety in the team around the leadership change. Let’s look at how I was able to build trust with the team quickly and get started on the right foot without causing disruptions.

Actions taken

Managing change expectations: First day in, I set expectations with leadership and the team that I would maintain the status quo while I got acclimated and started to build trust. I set about learning about existing team norms and settling into taking on regular manager duties such as standups, scrum planning, and 1:1’s. Luckily there were no pressing fires so I could pace myself and being new to the company, there was a lot to learn.

Get to know each other: During the first few 1:1’s, I spent time getting to know everyone on my direct team better. Tried not to talk about work, focusing on creating a trusted space. Really just listened to them to see what they were working on and what their career aspirations/frustrations were. After getting to a comfortable space, I started asking about the team: what’s going well and what could be improved. This started to give me a picture of an individual and team dynamics.

Scored some “early wins”: In those 1:1’s, several opportunities for improvement arose. With that, we did a team retrospective to collectively discuss and made a few small process changes e.g improving user support ticket rotations with training and scheduling fun time for team building. Quickly addressing a few pain points raised by the team, enabled me to build trust with the team as a leader as someone who will listen to the team and take action. Doing it as a team also empowered everyone to actively participate in developing team processes and norms.

Clarified the team’s direction: After spending time with users, stakeholders, and partner teams, I eventually had to set a new direction for the team. We were doing way too much and not focusing on the right areas. Despite the trust my quick actions earned, I spent even more time explaining the reasoning behind the decisions and kept my door open to listen to any feedback. It took many iterations but I made sure the team was part of the decision-making to be bought in and ready to move forward.

Lessons learned

Trust is earned not given. Take the time to get to know folks and to let them get to know you. This allowed the team to get candid about the type of work that inspires them and enabled me to chart a new direction successfully. Being able to deliver on that quickly also earned trust with leadership and led to more responsibilities. Here are some principles to remember,

  • Do:

    a. Be an active listener – go talk with team members, leadership and stakeholders to get a whole picture of what’s going well and what can be improved.

    b. Look for roadblocks or grievances you can fix quickly – it will earn you capital and inspire the team.

  • Don’t:

    a. Jump into trying to fix “all of the problems” without building relationships with the team.

    b. Assume that your new team understands how you work – take the time to explain expectations and what you stand for.
    c. Be afraid to spend more time with the team early on – you can always pull back when the team is working well. You may not want to “get in the way” if the team is busy executing but taking the time to talk early on will build more trust and save miscommunications later.

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