In my last post, I shared a story about a client who was given the opportunity to make a career shift and take over his father-in-law’s property management business. We talked a lot about how he viewed this opportunity from his point of view — how I encouraged him to both take a leap and walk the journey.

But I’d like to turn the tables a bit today and focus on what is, perhaps, one of the most critical components of anyone finding themselves taking over an established team: the responsibility to help shape how people perceive their roles within the team and manage their expectations of change.

Now, when it comes to taking over an existing team, it’s important to consider how people perceive their role within the team. Because unfortunately, what often happens with people is that if leadership doesn’t set some expectations from the get-go, you run the risk of setting a precedent about people’s behavior — and what is and isn’t acceptable. And this is tricky because you are caught between needing to learn about them and what needs to change (if anything), and not appearing to condone poor behavior.

It’s infinitely harder to give someone new marching orders when you’ve let them run roughshod all over what you imagined for the organization under the auspices of learning the lay of the land. You might run up against folks saying, “Hey, this is who I am. This is how I’ve always done it, and I can’t do anything differently.”

And that’s likely to rub you the wrong way. Understandably. But it’s not untrue. Remember the old saying: “Silence is acquiescence.”   

But even if change isn’t about poor behavior, but rather better processes or decision making, here’s what they may be thinking (and probably not saying): “You allowed us to do what we thought we should do, and now you’re saying that’s not good enough?!” To you, the answer might be obvious: Well, yeah. I watched, I learned, and now we are going to do better. But if the expectations weren’t set properly at the start, it can feel to them like you aren’t trusting their experience and expertise.

Once you’ve given someone enough leeway to believe their behavior, no matter how ineffective or poor, is acceptable (because you haven’t challenged it), the harder it is to challenge that behavior without creating a confrontation — and potentially division — within the team.  

You have a responsibility — to yourself and to the team — to help shape the team’s perception of who they are, who you are, and the roles everyone will play. The people you’re leading have to know from the start what will and won’t be tolerated — and the areas you are actively watching and questioning for improvement. You should be clear about your expectations of behavior, culture, and accountability. 

And in my experience, that’s probably the greatest gift of a new boss/leader/manager. Everyone knows things will be different, they just don’t yet know what or how

And for the record, simply saying “everything” is a copout. The old adage says if everything is important then nothing is important. The same follows here. If they can’t rely on anything, then there are no boundaries. 

Also remember that communication isn’t just about what you are telling them, it’s also about what they have to teach you and the culture you set for two-way communication. If you want none of that, then don’t give them the illusion that you care and want to listen to them. Finding out later that you lied — and had no intention from the start to learn from them — will be infinitely more devastating than learning it from the start and never developing the expectation.

So be different. Be clear. Be willing to state what you know and don’t know and where you are looking for insight. Let them know how they can expect you to make changes if you don’t find what you’re looking for in what the team delivers. Be clear on your boundaries, and remember: they don’t know you. So offer them the manual of you, even if it’s just a few chapters.

And by the way, what are you looking for? If you don’t know the answer to that question, that’s the first place to start.

Then, get busy communicating and setting the groundwork for a cohesive, successful, engaged team that’s on board with your mission and your vision for what lies ahead.

Best of luck, my friends!

Next up, I’m excited to share what YOU can do if you have the luxury of building (or rebuilding) a team from scratch — and what to do if you don’t have that luxury. Stay tuned for all the details in my next blog post.


Photo by Teodor Drobota on Unsplash