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Taking on a New Team after Organisational Change

In my last two blog posts I have highlighted the crucial key steps that a new manager has to take in order to fully engage their new team, and especially if they are now leading the team, they were once a member of. I have been following the progress of a number of companies as they go through considerable change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has initiated (and indeed accelerated) substantial change both in terms of restructuring of teams and of roles within the team structures. There is a lot of good managerial and leadership practice occurring which is good to see particularly around excellent communication and involvement of work forces in terms of shaping the new roles and team structures. This ensures commitment to the new changes when handled effectively.

However, this is not the case in a number of cases that I am aware of. Take the case of the newly promoted manager who is now taking on a new team and indeed is involved the recruitment of the team. The company is going through a major restructure which will result in a number of people being made redundant after a selection process for the new team. The new roles have been communicated although the detail behind the roles in terms of absolute clarity around responsibilities and specific measures is not what it should be, and as a result, there is a great deal of confusion as to what people are actually applying for. It is clear that these new roles are quite different from previous roles, but the clarity is still missing. This is causing confusion and disgruntlement. The new manager isn’t helping the situation as they are also saying that they are confused and that the role descriptions are ‘work in progress’. This is being seen as a bit of a ‘fudge’ and it is not breeding confidence in the new manager.

The next stage is an interview for everyone and then an assessment centre. This is a standard process, and the interviews duly go ahead. It becomes very apparent from feedback that the candidates going through the interviews sense that decisions have already been made and that this is just a ‘tick box’ exercise to satisfy HR Law. The new manager doesn’t help themselves as they appear to take an inconsistent approach to the interviews, and it is very obvious which candidates they favour. This apparent lack of fairness is quickly communicated, and this breeds further demotivation and anger. However, the interviews are completed, and the final assessments run with the end result being a new team. What should have happened next is that the new manager calls a team meeting and does what I advocated in the previous blogs – that is, find out how the team is feeling as a result of the process they’ve just been through and how they are feeling about the future, particularly the immediate future. This is a great chance to lead the team from the onset and get everyone on board and excited about their future. Most, if not all, of the team will have lost good colleagues and friends through the redundancy process and this has to be addressed. It is highly likely that that even though some team members will be relieved to secure their roles they may well be suffering from ‘survivor syndrome’ which is very real and cannot simply be brushed aside. They may be feeling a degree of ‘guilt’ that they have secured a role while their good friend or friends have been made redundant. There may be anger at the way the company has handled the restructuring the recruitment process and they may as a result have very real questions about the ability of the senior leadership team to effectively run the company and as a result may be hesitant about their future. All of this has to be addressed as a team and then individually and the new manager has to ensure this happens quickly, sensitively, and skilfully.

Unfortunately, in the case study above, the new manager disappeared after the formation of the team, to get involved in project group discussions. The team have been left ‘hanging’ and cliques are forming. There have been proactive questions asked about a team meeting and one-to-ones, but as yet nothing has been organised although the new manager has conceded that a team meeting will happen, although they are not sure when it can be fitted in. After being ‘pushed’ by a couple of team members, they have also conceded that one-to-ones will also happen, and thankfully specific dates are now starting to appear in the diary. This is progress, but it is a good two weeks after the team structure and positions were finalised and for the team meeting and one-to-ones, to only happen through the proactivity of some the team members is not good leadership or management practice. One question begs: Where are the second line managers in all this? Are they just leaving first line (and possibly new) managers to handle all this on their own?

This is one case study and sadly I am aware of similar situations during these challenging times, so here are some key pointers for new managers taking on a new team after (or during) periods of extensive organisational change.

1. Once you are appointed as the new team manager, and if you are having to recruit a brand-new team from existing employees then ensure all communication about the recruitment process, the team structure, the team purpose and goals, and the roles within the team are frequently and clearly communicated.

2. Make yourself available to answer any questions on the process, the team, and new roles. Have organised dates put in the diary when people can contact you and also be open to ad-hoc queries.

3. Ensure that all interview and assessment centre processes are transparent, equitable and fair. Make sure that in every instance you treat individual candidates with the same respect, in terms of time and approach. Ensure that you do not show favouritism in any form whatsoever.

4. Once you the team recruited, then as soon as possible (if fact make it possible!) get the team together, whether physical or virtual, to get them to express their feelings about the recent process and what lies ahead. Handle this meeting with skill and above all with dignity, sensitivity, and respect. Follow the team meeting up quickly with a one-to-one with everyone in the team. This is a priority and make sure you proactively manage to senior stakeholders if you are in demand for ‘project’ meetings and the like. The team will be vital in your progress, and you will need their individual and collective success for you to be successful in your management and leadership role.

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