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May 31, 2021

What New Team Leaders Should Do First

Stepping into a leadership role for the first time or for a new team, can be intimidating and overwhelming. However, you can get a strong start to the first 90-days by knowing what to do first. Plus, it’ll ensure the smoothest transition for employees while setting you up for long-term success.

You’ll want to avoid a bumpy beginning to your tenure as a leader – this can create stress, decrease team productivity, and lead to employee turnover. Retaining top team members is important since talent translates to quality work, innovative ideas, and strong company results.

A Gallup survey found 70% of change management strategies fail because workplace change is emotional. A similar Gartner study found only 34% of change initiatives are clear winners.

Becoming a team leader for the first time can feel intimidating and overwhelming. Knowing what to do first can set you up for success and endear you to your team.


Here are 7 strategies for what new team leaders should do first: 

Listen and Learn:

Closely listen to people who are familiar with the organization’s history and processes. You probably don’t want to start making changes until you’ve reviewed the state of the organization and identified areas of improvement. The key is to gather as much relevant information as possible. Learning about the company’s evolution is an important step in visualizing its past, present, and future.

Build Rapport and Trust:

Earn the personal trust of your employees. Make the time to connect socially, openly share about your own background, and ask questions to learn about their interests. Explain that you have an open-door policy. Seek to create an atmosphere of trust by letting staff members know their input is important.

Discover What Motivates Each Employee:

Instead of implementing a one-size-fits-all leadership approach, treat each employee as a unique individual who brings their own strengths and qualities to the team. For example, some workers are most productive on their own and others appreciate more direction. Find out how each employee works best and what each person wants to get out of working for the company. You can then adjust your leadership style to their preferences, tap into what motivates them, and ultimately help them reach their own career aspirations.

Clarify Goals, Roles, and Expectations:

This is a good time to make sure everyone understands the team goals and how they relate to the company’s overall mission and values. Also, clarify each employee’s role, and ensure everyone has a written job description that outlines expectations for the short and long-term. Keep in mind that transition periods often cause workers to explore other job opportunities, so it’s also helpful to offer incentives and rewards for meeting objectives.

Define Common Team Values and Norms:

An important step for any effective leader is to get followers to feel they’re part of a team whose collective effort is greater than the sum of its parts. Such a powerful cohesive unit is built on common team values and norms. Common team values, for example, might be “resilience,” “collaboration,” and “creativity.” Norms could include certain agreements around how to communicate and collaborate, such as “we won’t contact each other about work after 6pm.” Keep in mind that values and norms are much more effective when developed collaboratively by the team rather than handed down by the leader.

Show the Team They’re Heard and Appreciated:

In order to build more cohesion and loyalty, show team members that their voices and contributions matter. Holding brainstorming sessions is a good way to create an interactive atmosphere that makes each player feel heard. In addition, ask for regular feedback and ideas from employees on organizational challenges and opportunities. And find ways to acknowledge and thank team members for their contributions.

Be Transparent:

One of the ways to establish credibility and garner respect as a new leader is to communicate with transparency. When possible, leaders should be upfront and open about their intentions so no one is left guessing. Good leaders tackle challenges with an open mind and direct approach, and know to balance that with a dose of optimism.

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