Taking Over: Tips for Becoming a Team Leader for an Already Established Group

Building a team is an inherently personal proposition, regardless of the industry in which you’re operating. These are people that you’ve hand-selected based on their unique strengths to come together to form a complete whole. When everyone is firing on all cylinders, a well-designed team is more than just a tool – it’s a reflection of yourself, of the type of work you do, and of the quality of the product you’re about to deliver.

So what happens when you didn’t form the team, but you’re still being asked to lead them?

Things change in business all the time and at some point, you may be invited to take the reigns of a project that had already existed long before you got there – inheriting the project’s team at the same time. Jumping into a team as the newly deemed leader can be a difficult situation to find yourself in, but it doesn’t have to be provided you keep a few key things in mind.

Trust – The Most Important Element of All

When you take over as the team leader for an already established group, one thing will become clear: you probably wouldn’t have made the same decisions had you been there from the beginning. It’s a bit like a Hollywood feature film when one director takes over for another – a movie is still going to get made, but can that new director still put his or her own stamp on what is about to happen?

The answer is “yes,” provided you take advantage of your most valuable asset of all: the team itself. Remember, the people in that group were selected for a reason, and the most important thing you can do right now is to trust them to guide you just as they’re trusting you to guide them. Remember that they WERE there from the beginning. They have experience in this context that you do not, and their experience is incredibly valuable. Don’t come in barking orders, changing this or that just so that the project is more “yours” than anybody else’s. Listen to what they have to say. Talk to them about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Instead of changing them to fit your needs, do what you can to make yourself malleable to address theirs.

You’ve Been Tasked With Filling a Void, So Fill It

If you’re coming in to lead an already established group, the chances are high that what you’re being asked to do is fill a void. Why the previous team leader was replaced no longer matters – the people in front of you were prepared to follow that person, and now that person is gone. What you need to do is throw any pre-conceived strategies you may have had out the window and learn the score, so to speak. Find out what challenges were present under the previous leadership and learn what you can do to correct them. Find out how you can provide your personal value in a situation that already existed before you got there. Take the time to learn precisely what type of leader these people need and do whatever you have to do to become it. In this situation, you need to be willing to become a collaborator almost more than you would if you had built the team in the first place.
These are just a few of the ways that you can successfully become a team leader for an already established group. Make no mistake – it’s an awkward position to be in, but above all else, the quality of the work can’t suffer due to an unfortunate identity crisis. By trusting these people who have already come together and by being willing to become a real collaborator in every sense of the word, you’ll be able to make this team your own over time – all without tearing down what was old to build something new in the process.

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