Managing A Team You Were Once Part Of? Here’s What To Do

Becoming manager of the team you were once part of can be tricky business. In today’s article I’ll share three tips to help you in that critical first year on the job.

On a chilly Thursday in October several years ago, I went from being a colleague on a team of six to becoming the manager the following morning. Quite the shift! It was exciting for me professionally as I had been working towards a people management role for some time, and often wondered if it was ever going to happen.  Looking back, here are three tips that can help you make the transition as smooth (and effective) as possible.

1. Never assume. At the first team meeting as new leader I went through several exercises on ways of working, my expectations, team expectations, etc. All the standard stuff you can think of. I then did an overview on high performing teams and the elements that constitute high performance (trust, accountability, etc). Trust being the bedrock of all the elements, I glossed over it assuming that we all trusted each other and things were fine (we’d worked together for at least 2 years, some of us more). Luckily for me, one person on the team was brave enough to stop the conversation with, “Ian, we trust you as our colleague, but trusting you as our manager is different. That will take time.” I am so thankful for that person’s bravery because it was the truth. Had she not spoken up, I would’ve passed over that section never realizing there was work to be done to re-earn trust in my new role. Never assume!

2. Talk about it. As manager, address issues that are on your mind. Don’t let it linger. Trust your gut. If it’s gnawing at you, it’s likely something that needs to be tabled. You may feel awkward talking about performance issues/challenges with someone you were colleagues with yesterday (and in some cases, good friends). Do it anyway. It’s part of the job that you have to lean into (and, your boss expects that). Delaying things rarely leads to improvement.
I once had a direct report challenge me on a performance issue that they claimed to be unaware of. And they were right. I was busy trying to inspect their work and see for myself what other colleagues were raising concern over. In retrospect, addressing issues earlier on would have been a better path forward.  Give the feedback early! In this case, we did put a plan together to improve performance and over time it still didn’t reach the expected level, so changes had to be made.

3. Be authentic. This was a wise piece of advice given to me on day one. Don’t change who you are fundamentally once you become a manager. Be real – be you. People can smell bullshit a mile away anyway.

Have you ever inherited a team you were once a part of? What did you learn??