Meeting Your New Team
Taking Your First Steps Toward a Positive Working Relationship
As a manager, meeting a new team for the first time can be nerve-racking. You want to ensure that the meeting runs smoothly and that you establish your leadership, but you need to do this without destroying the team's culture or dynamic, or trampling on its achievements.
Being too heavy handed can be disastrous, but not establishing the right degree of authority can be, too. However, when it's handled well, an informal introductory meeting can be a great opportunity to learn about your team, to build trust with its members, and to establish a climate of mutual respect.
This article will help you to prepare for your first meeting with your team. So, follow these five steps to make your first meeting count.
1. Find Out About Your New Team
If there's a corporate intranet with employee profiles, read up on your team's professional skills and accomplishments, and any other information that you can come by. This will demonstrate to your team that you value it enough to spend time learning about its members before the meeting. If you can't find this data on the intranet, talk to your HR department, who may have photos and background information on the new members of your team.
Using this data, try to memorize people's faces, names and hometowns. If you struggle to remember names, try using face association, in which you make a connection between a name and a unique characteristic. Make the effort to learn how to pronounce names correctly, too.
If possible, before you take on your new role, schedule an informal face-to-face talk with your boss and the team's previous manager about people's strengths and weaknesses, about any behavioral issues in the team, or about any conflicts that you need to be aware of.
If you're going to work with teams from other national or religious cultures, try to be sensitive to any differences that you encounter. Our "Managing In…" series of articles will give you an insight into managing people in specific countries. Also, developing your cultural intelligence will give you a great base for working in any multicultural workplace. This involves using observation, empathy and attentiveness to read people and situations.
Keep in mind your organization's wider corporate culture when preparing to meet your team, whether it's formal – with clearly defined channels of communication and decision-making processes – or more informal. This will help you to act appropriately in your introductory meeting, and communicate effectively. Again, if possible, talk to the team's previous manager about his or her take on the corporate culture, so you have an idea of the beliefs and behaviors that you'll likely encounter.
It's possible that the members of your new team are your former co-workers. Managing peers can be difficult, and you will have to reset your working relationship to do it effectively. However, that should be done separately to this introductory meeting, so as not to cloud issues that may be raised. Be prepared for any issues that may arise, though.
2. Prepare the Meeting Space
If you are meeting in person, choose a neutral space, such as a meeting room. Consider seating, temperature and lighting to make the room as comfortable as possible. This will help to reduce stress and to promote communication.
If you're not meeting face-to-face, there are a few other things to consider. Despite the fact that we live in an increasingly virtual world, online meetings still take time to organize and often encounter technical issues. How many of us have had the "I can see you, but I can't hear you" episode during a virtual meeting?
Go to the meeting room ahead of time to ensure that everything is working, such as lighting and internet connections. This will give you time to get technical help, if there are any problems.
There are other things you can do to ensure that virtual meetings run smoothly. For example, if you're on a conference call, ask everyone to log in a few minutes early to make sure that you start on time. You could also ask participants to mute their lines when they're not talking.
3. Keep It Short and Informal
Before the meeting starts, let your team know that it's going to be a short, informal introductory gathering, so there won't be an agenda.
Once in the room, explain a little about yourself. Consider using business storytelling to communicate your values and what you're trying to achieve. At this stage, you needn't go into great depth about your plans - that can come later, at a more formal meeting.
At this time, simply explain that you'll be arranging one-on-one meetings with each member of the team, so that you can get to know them a little and find out how you can support them. Let people know that you'll schedule a formal meeting for the whole team after these one-on-ones have taken place.
Also, make it clear that you'll be spending the first 90 days learning all you can about the team and the way it works. Acknowledge that you will probably want to make some changes, but you won’t be doing this until you know what is and isn’t working well.
It's common advice for new managers to look for a "quick win" shortly after they step into a role. By all means look for an opportunity to improve things, but try to do this without making sweeping changes to the systems or processes that are already in place. It may have taken many years to put these into place, and they may be working quite well.
Spend the rest of the meeting learning about your new team. Give people the chance to ask questions - if they're interested in your background, they'll ask you. Answer questions fully, but try to show humility by guiding the conversation back toward your shared goals, rather than dwelling on your own accomplishments.
Ideally, you want your team to take away the following three messages:
- I'm glad to be here, and I respect the work that you've done.
- Please be assured that I'm not here to cause you stress or to make your lives more difficult.
- I'm here to put you first and enable you to do your jobs well.
It's natural for you to want to be accommodating with people you've just met, but be careful not to get carried away and promise something that you can't deliver. This will help you to demonstrate integrity and authenticity from the start.
4. Model Best Behavior
What you do in your first meeting will establish the tone of your leadership, so be conscious of creating a pleasant working atmosphere in which respect and manners are valued.
Take care of the obvious things: make sure that you arrive on time, dress appropriately, and use professional language. You want to give your team your full, undivided attention, so switch your phone to silent mode or even make a point of switching it off completely.
Remember that your body language speaks volumes. Adopt an open posture and avoid accidental nervous ticks, such as tapping, which can be mistaken for impatience. Listen to our Expert Interview with Nick Morgan about manners, to learn how your tone of voice and gestures can make you a better communicator and leader.
5. Making Good Small Talk
Small talk is fundamentally about building relationships, so you shouldn't try to eliminate it entirely in an attempt to keep meetings efficient. Our article, How to Make Small Talk, will give you a solid grounding in the art of keeping the conversation flowing.
People will remember how you made them feel, rather than the specifics of what you said. Therefore, asking your team members to talk about their best moments will create positive associations for them. It will also teach you a lot about your team's values.
Practice Active Listening when the other party is talking. This is where you make a conscious effort to understand the complete message by remaining focused on the speaker's words, as well as his or her tone and body language. Avoid the temptation to think about your response while he is talking.
A common way to build trust is to share some information about yourself (nothing too personal!) This shows the other party that you're willing to make yourself vulnerable by being the first to give something away. Encourage others to join in, but don't force anyone to go outside their comfort zone. First impressions count, so be especially careful not to embarrass anyone.
For more information on this topic, take a look at our article on Building Trust. It explores how honesty and being a team player will help you to become a role model for your team.
There's a chance that your first meeting will take place in a social, not a business, setting. Whatever the setting, though, be sure to abide by the principles outlined above. Be welcoming, respectful and professional, despite being tempted to relax.
The first time you meet your team can set the wrong tone for your relationship with people, if you don't prepare for it properly. A well-run first meeting, on the other hand, can instill confidence in your leadership, help you to establish relationships, and have a positive effect on future interactions.
So, thorough preparation is paramount. Make sure that you know a bit about who you're meeting and their culture beforehand.
Hold the meeting in a comfortable, neutral environment. If it's a virtual meeting, iron out any technical issues before it starts, so that they don't become serious problems.
Keep the first meeting informal, but schedule one-on-ones and a more formal team meeting in the coming days.
Practice active listening and model best behavior, while using small talk, to start building relationships with your new team members.
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