In my last couple of posts, I’ve talked about a client of mine who had the extraordinary opportunity to rebuild an organization basically from the ground up — how he could prepare himself for the leadership responsibilities and opportunities ahead and how to set his team up to succeed under his new leadership

Today, I’d like to share my suggestions for what to do if you have the luxury of building (or rebuilding) a team from scratch.

As I mentioned in this post, these building-from-the-ground-up opportunities arise at different times for different reasons:

  • Company players have changed
  • It’s a new organization
  • Some wholesale thing has occurred (like my client’s takeover)
  • 3 out of 5 people on a team have been with the company for less than a month

If you’re lucky enough to be in this situation, first of all, recognize what a great opportunity you have.

Next, pay attention to what’s already working. Assessment is critical to your success as a leader. Treat your position with humility, assess for good decision-making, and adjust as needed. Just don’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. 

In other words, instead of being an ass, assess.

If you’re following in someone else’s footsteps (like my client followed in his father-in-law’s), ask, “is that the kind of new leader I want to be? If not, what kind of leader do I want to be? How do I want to lead differently?”

Because the fact of the matter is that right now, nothing is established. You haven’t defined who you are, and your team hasn’t accepted you (yet).

Now is an ideal time to practice the stop-start-keep method. With this method, you ask three questions:

  1. What’s working that we want to keep? 
  2. What’s not working that is harming us (or keeping us from our goal) that we want to stop? 
  3. What are we not yet doing that if we were to start doing would have the greatest positive impact? 

When talking with your team, when you reach for something and it isn’t there, what is it you’re reaching for? Maybe it’s a procedure, an expected response, or an anticipated team behavior. As humans, we easily fall into habits and can miss the obvious, like the fish that doesn’t recognize the water they’re swimming in. In these times, we tend to accept things as true, normal, or foundational — when in fact they aren’t. They are merely things we’re accustomed to. Over time, rather than questioning them, we find ways to compensate. We don’t think about the workarounds and the inefficiencies and the breakdowns in communication or processes as abnormal anymore. We lose awareness of it. 

It’s like that old truck you just keep hanging onto because if you close the door twice, bang on the dash three times, and wiggle the wiper switch just so, it starts right up. Right? It works. Sort of.

It doesn’t, really. It’s a temperamental old truck, but we love its idiosyncrasies. And that may be fine for a classic old truck, but if your team “works just fine” like this, it likely deserves a serious reevaluation.

Why do we insist on doing this funny little dance, pretending things are great? Do you like that? Really? Think about it.

Approach everything with your new team this way. Help them to be conscious about the things they do that they don’t even think about anymore. Don’t reach for something that isn’t there and shrug it off when you don’t find it.

One of the other gifts of being able to build things from the ground up is that when you’re new, asking those kinds of questions is infinitely easier — because you get to play dumb!

So don’t waste the opportunity: ask powerful questions about what works. What is it that the team wishes was different? Where do you expect, hope, and dream for this organization to go?

Like I told my client, you can look back on “the old guy” with respect and appreciation: he was great to work for… We felt secure in our jobs… AND you can encourage the team to analyze: …But he was quirky in this way; he did distract us with this particular tendency; he threw a wrench in things because he thought XYZ was important even if it wasn’t.

You get the idea.

Persist with those tough questions and assessments. Ask those questions regularly — weekly, monthly or at least quarterly — as you build the company. Give your team permission to take the judgment out of it. Look at them like a case study — objectively. Study and observe it. 

Tough questions like these have the power to build a team you never realized you could create.

If you don’t find yourself in the same shoes as my client, there’s still hope! Keep an eye out for my next post on what to do when you don’t have the luxury of building a team from scratch.


Photo by Nikita Tikhomirov on Unsplash