• Oct 28 2016

Playing the Hand You’re Dealt: Reshaping an Inherited Team into an Effective Team

Building an effective team from the ground up is a feat all by itself – yet in many ways, reshaping an inherited team is even more daunting. Understanding the existing power dynamics in a group of people you may have just met is a challenge. Strong leadership can act quickly to optimize the innovative potential of diverse teams to generate high-quality decisions and maximize operational efficiency. In addition, it is important to understand the stages of team development and know how to lead the team without leaning on authority.

Rolling With the Punches to Embrace and Leverage Change

At the core of the challenges related to working with an inherited team is the idea of change – from above and below. For executives, this means working to understand team dynamics already in place and mitigating fears related to new leadership. For teams, it means putting their trust in new leadership and operational protocols.

Upper management struggles with change 43 percent of the time.”

Embracing change is a struggle for both leadership and team members: ExecOnline’s research suggests that 68 percent of leaders say they observe high rates of employee resistance to change, while middle managers observed that upper management struggles with change 43 percent of the time. This type of instinctive resistance can harm organizational performance, especially during periods of leadership transition.

To overcome this resistance, new leadership must roll with the punches and learn as much as they can about the dynamics at play within an inherited team. Taking a careful look at all the players and understanding their various strengths and weaknesses is vital to gaining support from key stakeholders who possess unique agendas and interests.

Showing Emotional and Social Intelligence to Establish ‘Psychological Safety’

From ExecOnline​’s experience developing and hosting countless leadership classes, we have found that one of the most valuable tools for leadership is the ability to exhibit emotional and social intelligence. We have defined this in practice as:

  • Understanding your behavioral style and those of your team members to bring together teams with strengths aligned to your objectives.
  • Using this awareness of styles to increase mutual understanding, avoid friction and heighten meaningful dialogue.

With an inherited team, this emotional and social intelligence is doubly important since you want to ease fears that may be exacerbated by change. In an internal study of Google’s most successful teams, the tech giant identified several key team dynamics that seemed to be driving their most effective workgroups. One such aspect was that of “psychological safety,” defined by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson as “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.” This capacity to feel secure in risk taking was described by Google People Operations analyst Julia Rozovsky as the most important dynamic, underpinning the rest.

“Individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave Google, they’re more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates, they bring in more revenue, and they’re rated as effective twice as often by executives,” Rozovsky wrote in Google’s re:Work blog.

Identifying Power Dynamics and Enlisting Persuasive Techniques

“The key is leading persuasively rather than aggressively.”

Beyond fear, identifying the existing power dynamics at play makes working with an inherited team a tricky proposition. Team members might be used to a particular formal or informal hierarchy. The introduction of a new leader may disrupt this existing dynamic, causing conflict.

The key is leading persuasively rather than aggressively. We call this “Influence Without Authority.” While leadership certainly has the authority to mandate operational change, we instead encourage leaders to influence their teams to create more lasting, well-regarded change within a group.

Understanding everyone’s interests, strengths and weaknesses allows executives to appeal directly to the members of an inherited team, emphasizing transparency and showcasing that operational adjustments are built out of collaboration, enlisting the support of key influencers. ExecOnline teaches the most effective, persuasive leadership techniques, designed to develop team solidarity, followership and broad support for change throughout your organization.

To learn how ExecOnline’s leadership courses can help you manage and reshape inherited teams, get in touch today.

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