Team Member to Team Leader - Making the Transition Easier
Updated: Jun 25, 2021
One of the most challenging transitions you will make is when you are promoted from ordinary team member to that of team leader or team manager. Suddenly the rules of engagement are changed. From being that team member who perhaps voiced ideas, opinions, concerns, and suggestions to the previous manager, and maybe even moaned and groaned about company policies, morale and strategies to the other team members (and we've all done this!) to now being in a leadership position whereby the expectation will be that you now follow and promote the company 'line'. Ouch! All eyes are now on you. Existing team members will have an expectation that all the talk about what you'd do if you were manager can now happen and as such the weight of expectation will be upon you to now deliver on behalf of the team. Factor in the relationships that you have had with your fellow team members as an equal peer and that the dynamics of these relationship will now change, then you have a potentially explosive and stressful mix just waiting to happen.
This was the very scenario I faced when I gained my first line manager role. I was promoted from within the team and suddenly I went from being a 'pal' to being the 'manager'. Now I was managing and supporting my 'pals' performance and potentially having to deal with under performance. I was now expected to support the company 'line' and ensure that all the team were following company strategy, certain aspects of which I didn't support and had been vocal about this to my predecessor and team mates. The team expected be to now be in a stronger position to effect change higher up the organisation. The enthusiasm and delight at being promoted with greater pay and a bigger company car suddenly seemed not really worth the extra hassle, especially as there was little development being put in place to ensure I had the necessary skills in order to carry out my new management duties. The advice was at the time, 'just follow the example of your previous manager'. Yes, my previous manager had some good points and a nice guy to work with, but there were areas that I felt they could have done better in. I got some really good advice from the other line managers but also some advice which really did not sit comfortably with me and overall I felt that I was operating purely on 'gut instinct' in many areas of people management in particular.
After many years of being in management positions I would like to outline some key steps that new line managers should take, especially, if they are taking on a line manager or team leader role from within their existing team.
If this is your first team manager role then ensure you have 100% understanding of the role's scope and responsibilities. What are your specific objectives and measures? Agree these with your senior line manager and make sure that you agree an adequate level of support for your first few months in the role. Most new managers or team leaders should have a solid development or probation plan in place and make sure this is agreed. Don't be 'fobbed off' with a loose ' 'Oh, you'll be fine, you'll learn as you go'!
Your first meeting with the team will be a nervous one, not just for you, as the new manager, but also for the team. Don't do as some new managers I have had in the past have done and just fly into task by focusing on business agendas and topics. It is essential that you put time in to get the 'air clear' within the team. By this I mean that there will be numerous questions and expectations flying about, mostly behind your back!. How is he going to manage us? Will he be 'poacher turned gamekeeper'? Will he go from being vocal in the team to now being simply a 'management voice-piece'? 'Dictator or Coach'? These queries and expectations need to be out in the open and managed so at the very first meeting the new manager or team leader needs to put dedicated time aside to have open and honest discussions and ensure all queries are answered and expectations managed. When you do this successfully then you will feel a huge sense of relief as will all he team members.
It is good practice at this first meeting to start to build the discussions and agreements into a team contract or charter with a strong focus on the purpose of the team, the aims and goals that the team have to achieve and the behaviours and attitudes that everyone has to sign up to and demonstrate consistently and authentically.
When you have completed your first team meeting and had all these open and honest discussions then it is important that you follow up with 1:1 discussions with each of the team members. Do not assume that you will get all the queries and opinions from all the team members out in the team meeting. Similarly, you may not achieve fully understanding of what has been discussed and what has been agreed - despite all the 'nodding heads'!
There is a lot to cover in the first few days and weeks of a new team manager's term and we can't cover them all in this one blog. However getting the team's thoughts, ideas, concerns, queries, and expectations 'out on the table' at the very first meeting and then followed up with 1;1s with each team member is absolutely crucial to getting your new role off to the best possible start.