Highly functioning leadership teams are essential to the optimization of organizational performance. Yet the state of constant flux in the membership of these teams can often detract from their momentum and lead to chronic underperformance.
The appointment of a new leader usually represents a significant turning point for management teams. Deliberate steps must be taken to ensure that the team coalesces rapidly with the new leader. A well-managed transition undertaken soon after the change in leadership is announced spares the team from an extended “guessing” period where everyone involved is trying to adjust through trial and error.
The good news is that can be addressed relatively easily. The simple application of change management principles can significantly speed up the integration of a new leader.
Managing the change
Relatively simple change management principles apply to this context:
Before attempting to define and launch the next phase in the evolution of the team, it is key to close the previous chapter by respectfully celebrating what was accomplished – validating past experiences helps to bring closure and allows moving forward with the readiness to commit to a renewed team agenda.
The appointment of a new leader creates a time of “un-freezing” when there is generally less resistance to adopting new ways. This is a time when those affected welcome clarity even though it means having to change existing ways. If the right discussions do not take place soon after the new leader is announced, the “re-freezing” that takes place makes it more difficult to accept the changes that are subsequently introduced.
As for all change, an open dialogue where people are genuinely listening to one another’s expectations is the best way to enhance the level of understanding and trust.
Leadership teams tend to prefer focusing on the content of objectives and tasks, but this is one of those times when it’s important to spend the time required to discuss how best to work together moving forward. While this is a discussion where issues affecting the team can be identified, the resolution of complex questions will have to be tackled in subsequent team meetings. Renewing the commitment of team members and the level of trust in the team is best realized with a highly interactive session where all team members take an active part in defining how the team will function from this point on.
The structure of the session
To foster a more genuine and meaningful exchange, this should be a one-day session that is best held away from the office. The first half of the session ideally involves the previous leader engaging the team in a dialogue on the following three topics:
What was accomplished by the team in the course of her tenure;
The challenges that remain;
The strategic priorities the team should consider moving forward.
The lunch that follows should serve as a celebration. This is the time when the team gets closure, turns its energy to working with the new leader, and stops looking back on the past. After the departing leader says her goodbyes at the conclusion of the lunch, the team reconvenes to focus on creating the future of the team with the new leader.
The second half of the session focuses on how the team will work from this point on. This is done by agreeing on the expectations they will have of one another:
After having provided some context on her perspective about teamwork, the new leader asks team members to take 45 minutes to articulate their expectations on how they would like to work with her (the new leader leaves the room at this point).
In the subsequent debrief, the expectations are presented to the new leader. Agreement is reached on the expectations that are acceptable to everyone.
The new team leader then articulates her expectations of the team members. For instance: how she prefers to work with the team and with individual members of the team; how delegation is to operate, how she prefers communication to take place, what she wishes not to happen; etc. The new leader asks for feedback on these expectations and, after suggestions are made back and forth, the team agrees on them.
The new leader then engages in an informal dialogue on what the priorities should be for the team in the foreseeable future. A time is set for a more in-depth strategic review.
The outcomes of the session
This is a highly interactive session which is hosted and chaired by the new leader but best facilitated by an external resource to make sure the meeting unfolds as planned without being highjacked into the actual resolution on complex issues that are best dealt with in other meetings. These are the outcomes that should result from such a session:
Everyone on the team gets clarity on how the team will function with the new leader.
Team members develop a shared understanding of the new leader’s management approach, work style and preferences.
The new leader is quickly brought up to speed on the ‘lessons learned” of the team and the key issues/challenges facing the team.
The dialogue initiated with the meeting opens up the lines of communication and builds confidence in the team that issues will be tackled with everyone’s voice being duly considered.
The old adage “something well started is half done” comes to mind when thinking of the rationale for this meeting. The fumbles all too often associated with these transitions could easily be avoided with the application of the rather straightforward change management principles embedded in such a meeting.