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Leaders: Take Care Bringing in New Team Members

Bringing a new executive on to the team almost always takes more work than expected. No matter how senior your team is, it can take significant effort to get the new person integrated with the incumbents, aligned on goals and strategy, and functioning smoothly so that the organization gets the full value of all parties’ various talents and expertise.

You may need to be personally involved — at both the strategic and tactical levels — to avoid wasted time and energy.

Anticipate that the work — and the work relationships — will have to change to accommodate the new person, so offer encouragement to the people whose assignments, tasks, or environments are being adjusted, and show them how it will be their advantage to join in the dance. If the resulting organizational shifts or adjustments in work processes are misaligned or conflict-ridden, your business goals will suffer.

From the Beginning

During the new exec’s first 30, 60, or 90 days, these areas of focus are the minimum for successful integration. You don’t have to provide all the details yourself, but you do have to make sure they’re handled:

  • The history of the organization, cultural context, and the norms for “how we do things here.”
  • Articulation of business goals for both the team and its individual members.
  • How to work successfully and comfortably with you, as the leader.
  • What to do when they run into trouble.

If team members sense ambiguity in the assignment or alignment of goals, resources, lines of authority, etc., they may stop progress altogether and fuss overtly or covertly, until clarity is restored. Such stalling wastes time, undercuts productivity, and perhaps most significantly, confuses and disrupts subordinates horribly.

It’s crucial that the new exec’s understanding and behavior mesh with that of their colleagues. Critical feedback should be given privately, of course, but you’ll also need to ensure that your team’s interpretation of your intentions is synched up. So instead of giving one-on-one explanations to the new exec, it’s helpful to have experienced members of the team on hand to back you up as well as to share concrete, meaningful details.

Any time and energy you invest upfront will pay off in fewer turf-related conflicts, quicker innovation, and fresher solutions. As a side benefit, you’ll learn more about the team members, their expectations, and what’s really going on between the various people working together.

When the Road Gets Rough

Be particularly attuned to whether colleagues are collaborating with, or taking shots at, each other — and whether their behaviors are being replicated at lower levels of the organization. Conflict is most likely to happen within boundary areas or at the edges of functional silos where there’s confusion about who has authority for decisions or responsibility for outcomes.

When conflict does occur, don’t leave people alone to work things out willy-nilly. Instead, facilitate discussions between potential combatants. Before asking for the team’s commitment to improving their behavior and communication, first express the mission, then state the goals, and, finally, relay the concerns you have for what might be going off-track. Be sure to check on how they’ll proceed at a more granular level: “That sounds great! Now how will you go about making that work?” Make sure everybody articulates their operational concerns so you can see what issues need to be put on the table.

Be Prudent with Praise

Whatever and whomever you agree with or praise will be noticed by all parties, so take care not to praise any results that were achieved through negative behaviors. If you’ve intentionally hired a “star,” be sure to praise not just the star, but the “firmament” it sits in. That star could not shine without it.

And refer back to When You’re New, Try Humility and Tips for Coping with New Colleagues to learn more about how the situation looks from the vantage point of both the new player and the incumbents.

Onward and upward,


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