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The New Boss's Guide to Taking Over a Team

By Friday, some new ministers (and probably a new Prime Minister) are going to be facing a familiar challenge to many managers: how do you take over a new team effectively?

The first, elusive, requirement is to gain control. There are four things new managers and ministers need to do:

  1. Have a clear agenda. "An agenda" is as simple as: "This is where we are, this is where we are going and this is how we will get there." This should spell out the three (at most) top priorities which will define the success of your team. There will still be all the routine do be done. But many new managers let themselves be submerged by the routine and think they are doing a good job just by managing the in-tray well. This is a huge trap for new ministers: they are overwhelmed by the red boxes civil servants give them. This makes them reactive, not proactive and the civil servants have won: the minister has been stopped from the folly of his or her ideas.
  2. Get the right team in place. Don't assume you have to stick with the team you inherited. You need people who you trust. Be quick to move out the deadwood -- it is easier to do this when you start than it is after a year. The longer you leave it, the more you are seen to have accepted the team you were given. Managers have more freedom than ministers, but ministers can choose their special advisers. This is where most of the policy and all of the political work will be done. They need to choose well. How well you can do that in a hung parliament with a coalition government remains to be seen.
  3. Set expectations with your team. As a new boss you need to set a psychological contract with each team member. It is normally something like: "Work hard and be loyal, and I will look after you at bonus and promotion time". But it pays to go deeper and understand each team member's hopes, fears and dreams. Invest time in them and they will repay that investment. Dare to set high expectations for each team member. People tend to rise or fall to the level of expectations set. Even ministers can do this -- having a civil service team that is on your side really helps.
  4. Set expectations with the boss. This goes back to back to the need for a clear agenda. Critically, if there is bad news, get it out of the way early. Set expectations low and then it is easy to exceed them. In the political world, the ministers who fail to set clear expectations early are likely to be suffer in the first reshuffle -- they will have failed against expectations they did not even know existed. In business, your boss may not wait that long.
(Image: hikingartist, CC2.0)