A week by week plan for starting to manage a new team

I’m starting at a new company on Monday so I’ve been panic-reading management and leadership books. I’ve boiled a lot of that advice down into this week by week plan.

Important caveat: “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable” and all that. Stay flexible, shift things around as needed, don’t hold off on something that needs to happen just because it’s not in the plan, blah blah blah.

Week 1: Find someone, anyone, and grab a 30 minute call with them. Here’s the agenda (stolen from this post):

  • “Tell me everything you think I should know.” – 25 minutes
  • “What are the biggest challenges the team has right now?” – 3 minutes
  • “Who else should I talk to?” – 2 minutes

Next, repeat that process with all of the names you get from that last question, and keep repeating with every name you get until you run out of new names. That should get you a nice jump start on knowledge transfer. You may even find a few easy problems to solve for quick wins.

Weeks 1-3: Listen in on regular meetings and ask lots of questions. Don’t shy away from asking for clarification on things asynchronously after the meeting is over. And remember, be warm, not impressive.

Don’t start 1-1s yet, and don’t try to do anything useful. Your goal for weeks 1-3 is to meet as many people as you can and learn as much as you can.

Also, sometime in weeks 1-3, start asking about any shared measurable goals for the team. How do you know if you’re succeeding? How is your impact being measured? Do those measures exist? If they don’t exist, then we’ll come back to this in a few weeks.

Week 3: Send an email or a group chat message about starting 1-1s and list some available times so that people can choose the times that are best for them. Mention the format you plan to use so they can prep.

Week 4: Start having weekly 1-1s. You won’t be giving any feedback in these 1-1s (or elsewhere) for a few more weeks. So for now your job is to get to know your directs and to support them however they need.

Week 8: If the team already has measurable goals related to impact and business outcomes, then skip this step. Otherwise, now is the time to start figuring out what those goals should be. I talked about this in “The 2 responsibilities of a manager.”

Week 12: Now that you have 3 months under your belt, fill out the assessment at the end of “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. That should give you a sense of which, if any, dysfunctions to focus on.

Also, start giving positive feedback. Send an email or group message letting people know that you’re going to start this, and tell them about the format it’ll follow.

Weeks 12-20: Give only positive feedback, early and often. To start, aim to give 1 piece of positive feedback to someone everyday, then increase it from there. Build up to a steady stream.

Week 20: Now that you hopefully have earned some trust, you can start also giving negative feedback. Let your reports know ahead of time that it’s coming so they won’t be caught off guard. And remember, don’t debate the past.

Week 30: By now you’ve been giving feedback for a while, so you should have a good sense of where to add more formal coaching. Set goals with your reports and talk through a granular step by step plan for achieving it.

And just like that, you’re more than half a year in. You’re on your own from here. Good luck!

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