Breaking The Ice As A Team’s New Manager

November 6, 2013


Old photo of two ice breakers near shore

“Ermack Assistance” -Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

The flip side of yesterday’s post is being the new manager joining a team or company. Hopefully, you accepted the job because there is some challenge that needs your unique talent. Either the product, the team or the company needs your help to create something great.  You’ve arrived at the first day of your new job and you’re drinking from the fire hose. The team is watching, wondering what your first move will be. How do you break the ice with your new team?

Walk around and introduce yourself

On your first day, walk around and introduce yourself to your team. Since you won’t know anyone, you’ll need some help. If no one initiates this, ask someone connected to the team to walk you around the team area so you can introduce yourself to everyone. It is important to put faces to all the names on your list and know roughly where you can find them. While you’re at it, if anyone suggests you meet someone outside the team, make a point of introducing yourself to those people, too.

Find out who are the key people

Every team has key people who are outside the team. It could be other managers, internal/external clients, internal/external suppliers or even key influencers are in the company. Find out who the key people are for your team. These should be the first people, outside the team, you should talk with.

Set up 1-on-1s

Within your first week, you should set up a lot of 1-on-1s. Within the first three weeks, you should meet with everyone on your team and all the key people external to your team. As much as possible, meet them where they work, rather than at your desk. Ask them what is working well. Ask them where you can help quickly. Ask them about the big challenges that are going to take time. Ask what is important to them. Make sure you take some time to get to know them as well. Find out about each other’s backgrounds, how long they have been with the company/team and why they joined.

Find some quick wins

If your team and key people give some input on where you can help quickly, act on it. Some quick wins will help you build momentum, increase your confidence and the confidence in you.

Listen and observe

While quick wins are good, the most important thing you can do in your first 90 days is observe what is going on and listen to the people around you. Watch how people work or, if you can, work alongside them. At Toyota, everyone starts the company with a tour of duty working on the manufacturing line, regardless of position.  Pay attention to the group dynamics in meetings. Really listen to the feedback you get during your 1-on-1s. If you have some ideas, casually bounce them around and see how people react. What you absorb in your first 90 days will be invaluable in determining your best strategy going forward.

When you start as a manager on a new team or at a new company, what do you do to break the ice on your first day? Your first week? Your first 90 days? Have you ever tried something that really didn’t work?

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About Liza Wood

After a dozen years leading video game development projects in a variety of roles, I decided to pursue a Master of Data Science at the University of British Columbia. Studying data science doesn’t mean I’m moving away from leading people. Growing data science teams need collaborative, pragmatic, Agile leadership to connect data to all areas of the business. I would like to share that point of view, along with my experiences, on this blog.

View all posts by Liza Wood

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