Inheriting a Team: How to Ensure Good Performance

Managing a team to ensure optimal performance can be challenging in the best of times. It can be even more challenging when you’ve inherited a team.

If the team worked well with your predecessor, they may see you as a threat. If they didn’t, you may inherit a rocking boat. If the team is unified, you have to get them to see things your way. If it’s a team with dissension, you have a built-in problem from the get-go rather than a working team.

Communicate goals and identify people as part of managing an inherited team.

Organizing a Team to Meet Goals

A recent Harvard Business Review article points out that a manager’s first priority is always to meet organizational goals. Managers inheriting a team thus need to keep in mind that the team needs to be structured and led to meet those goals. If that means shaking up the team structure and moving people around, you have to plan and lead to do that. It can be a test of your business leadership.

Fortune suggests three steps for managers inheriting a team — moves that can ensure both meeting company objectives and winning the team to your side.

First, sit down and ask each employee about what they expect from the organization. Why did they apply? Why do they stay? What are their goals? This lets you know how the employees view the implicit contract they have with the company. You’ll have more information with which to motivate good performers. If you need to make changes, you’ll know more about potential areas of resistance.

Second, identify the employees who are most likely to drive the conversation about new management. Make a plan to establish good relationships with them. In teams, there are likely one or two people who frame the perceptions of the other members. That’s the people you’re looking for.

Third, identify the capabilities of your team and structure job descriptions that reflect those capabilities. Fortune points out that managers tend to develop team positions they would like to have. However, you need to make sure that your team members can actually do the things they are asked to do.

Structure jobs to reflect the capabilities of the people.

When You Have an Underperformer

What if you have underperformers in the team? That can be an especially delicate situation, as you may feel conflicted about being seen as negative toward the team.

The solution here, too, is to ground your actions in priorities. Can the underperformers help meet company goals? Or are they a detriment?

Have one-on-one meetings with underperformers. The meetings should be designed to elicit whether they could perform better with different tools, expectations, or training. If you decide yes, set up the new ingredients.

It’s also important to make clear the necessity of good performance to all your employees. A danger to letting underperformance slide without correction is that you’re sending a signal it doesn’t matter. It must.

Communicate this. It, in conjunction with a performance plan for all employees, will make your team strong and able to meet organizational goals.

Inheriting a team can be tougher than developing one. Prioritizing company goals, communicating their importance, understanding your employees, and setting standards are crucial to successfully leading an inherited team.