The first time that I inherited a team to manage, I got some great advice from one of my mentors. They suggested, “Don’t change much the first 2-3 weeks. Watch and listen.”
It was good advice, but I didn’t follow it…and I lost trust by coming in and making changes that weren’t immediately necessary. It’s not that my changes were bad, just that they were mine – not theirs. I inadvertently sent the message that they’d been doing it all wrong until I got there.
Since then, I’ve worked hard (and coached others) to follow that original advice. One of the best ways is to listen when we inherit a team. Here are seven questions you can ask:
1) How did you come to work here? Everyone has a story…and it’s uniquely theirs. Find about how they got to where they are. Be curious. You’ll hear interesting, funny, and sometimes crazy stories of how people got where they are.
2) Tell me what you do for the team? You obviously should know their title and overall job description. However, what you want to discover is how they perceive what they do. Listen carefully to what they say – and what they don’t say.
3) What’s working on the team? What isn’t? Asking both these questions implies that you know that there is both good and bad you are inheriting (true in every new management role). Find our what people think is going well. Find out what isn’t. Don’t criticize anyone you replaced; just ask questions.
4) How does this job fit (or not) into your career objectives? Find out how their work gets them to where they want to go – and perhaps how you can support this. That said, only a naive manager would believe that everyone is fully aligned with their life purpose. Sometimes you’ll hear a brutally honest person say, “I’m here for the paycheck.” Knowing that up front actually makes things a lot easier for both of you.
5) What keeps you busy outside of work? (And ask it exactly that way). People can respond to this question lots of ways and still save face. You want to know something personal about everyone you manage, but don’t put people on the defensive during your first conversation by asking something too personal like, “Tell me about your family.” Not everyone has a happy family…or a family at all.
6) What advice do you have for me on how to best work with you? If you feel like you’ve built some rapport, this is a question people never expect, but appreciate (assuming of course, you actually take some of their advice). Do your best to listen and record what they say and incorporate it in later interactions. Also, tell people right away if they ask for something you can’t or won’t do.
7) If I ever have an issue with something you’re doing, what’s the best way to tell you? By all means don’t start with this question, but if you’ve built good rapport, this is super valuable to know. You can build trust quickly by honoring how people like to be treated (within the framework of organizational policy, of course).
You could schedule time to ask these questions or you could pose a few walking down the hall to lunch. Either way, find a way to watch and listen so you can earn the trust you’ll need to lead.
Now, your turn: Which of these questions will help you earn trust with your team? Answer below in the comments section.