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Congratulations, You're Now The Boss: How to Take Over an Existing Team

Suzanne Lucas

When you land a new job, there's a ton to learn. You not only need to learn the business, but you also need to learn how best to use your team.

You may get lucky and walk into a perfectly performing team, but chances are, you're going to have to make some changes.

To make those decisions, though, you'll need the support of the team. How do you gain their support?

And how do you determine what does and does not need to be done? Hang, on, here we go.

Come in With an Open Mind

You were hired because your boss saw something in you that she liked. You may have discussed changes that need to happen. She may have even briefed you on problems, so you may think you know exactly what needs to happen.

You don't. Even your boss doesn't understand everything that went on in your department (unless she used to be the manager of that department and was just promoted out). You need to come in with the idea that you need to learn from your staff. They'll be able to tell if you're talking to them because you feel you have to,  instead of talking to them because you want to hear what they have to say.

Speak to Everyone One-on-One

It's critical that you sit down with each and every one of your staff and ask the following question.

  • Tell me about what you do. Don't just trust job titles or even job descriptions. You may find out that even though you have three employees with identical job titles, they do three very different things. You'll also be able to tell how your employees perceive their role and their contribution to the department.

  • What task/function is a waste of time? I have yet to run into a department that has zero unnecessary tasks. There's a chance that there is a department out there that is operating at peak proficiency, but don't bet the farm on it. This question brings out information that you can later use to streamline and improve the department. For instance, if Jane tells you that she sends monthly reports to 6 different people, but 5 of those delete it without reading it, all you have to do is find out if the sixth person needs the info. Most likely not, and suddenly, you've freed up Jane!

  • What is the most important task you do? Why?Every employee has multiple things they have to do. Even if you think you know what the answer should be, this will give you a peek into why your employee is doing what she does. If you're the new front end manager at a grocery store, asking a cashier this question could provide a huge variety of answers. One cashier will say, "scanning groceries," while another will say, "giving great customer service." Which one of those people is more likely to be your rising star?

  • What's a skill that you don't have that you'd like to gain?You need to plan for the future. Training people in areas that their interest already lies will make that easier.

  • What's a skill you have that we don't make good use of?No job uses every skill everyone has. As a new manager, you weren't the person who hired these people, and you don't know their backgrounds. Asking this question is the quick way to learn about hidden talent. Jane may be a trainer while John is the curriculum writer, but through this question, you'll find out that Jane has a degree in instructional design and John used to train, and both would like to mix it up a little.

  • Where do you want your career to go?Many managers focus on the here and now, which is great, but your job as a manager is to help prepare your employees for the next level. Your employees will be working towards this with you or without you, and you'll be better off if you work with them.

Read the Files

Go ahead and ask HR for the employee records. Some people will disagree with me on this one. They want to come in without preconceived notions. While that is awesome, if Heidi has a record of insubordination, you don't want to treat it like a first-time offense when she acts up under your leadership.

If Holli received an award last year for customer service, you'll want to tap her to train the new hire. Additionally, seeing the actual resume can give you some insight into the employee's background.

This doesn't mean you should go searching for dirt. Don't run another background check, or go back a long time, but give everything a quick once over to see what stands out. A special thing to note is performance reviews from the last year. There should be goals written out there.

You'll need a copy of those so you can judge employees according to what they are working on. As the new boss, you can feel free to change those goals, but present it as a change, and acknowledge that you're adding to or removing goals from what they are working on. You don't want to throw any surprises their way at their performance reviews.

Wait a Minute Before Changing Things

If your first day is Monday and you present a whole bunch of changes on Tuesday, you'll anger people. (Unless, your boss has instructed you to make these ASAP.) You need to understand how things work before you try to make them better.

If you've discovered legal violations, of course, make those changes immediately and tell people why. "There is no more working off the clock, ever, because that is a violation of federal law. I know your previous manager encouraged this, but no more."

Congratulations on the new job. Taking over a new team is tough, but you can do it. 

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Suzanne Lucas Member
Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate HR where she hired, fired, managed the numbers and double-checked with the lawyers. She now writes about how to make your business a success and your employees happy. Send her an email at