Leading the Team You Inherit

Leading the Team You Inherit: It’s not the same as building one from scratch.
HBR, June 2016, p61
By Michael D. Watkins

Sometimes greatness is thrust upon us. Much more common is the situation of being thrust into a team leadership role, often when the team is experiencing problems. By following the same example throughout the article Watkins gives us a very good feel for what can happen and how to handle the issues. The article reads as though Watkins has lots of experience with this situation and his advice comes through clearly and simply. The advice begins with assessing the team members and the fit between their capabilities and the needs of the team. A sidebar discusses sizing up the team members in detail. The second step is reshaping the team, which requires replacing those few team members who don’t fit with the needs of the team, then aligning the team and re-engineering the processes to fit the people and get the work done. Finally, one accelerates the team’s cohesion through celebrating early successes.

I was particularly struck by the advice on aligning the team by discussing and agreeing on the answers to four questions:
What will we accomplish?
Why should we do it?
How will we do it?
Who will do it?

The article reminded me of a chapter in Joiner and Josephs’ book Leadership Agility. The chapter, “The Five Eds,” tells the story of a new CEO who undertakes the turn-around of a manufacturing company. The story is told five times, thus five Eds, with Ed at a different stage of “leadership agility,” or form of mind, in each telling. The outcomes in the book are different with each telling of the story as each Ed with a different form of mind tackles the same problem. Similarly, the outcome in the article would be different if “David Benet,” the character in the example, were at a different form of mind. David Benet appears to be at a later form of mind. The advice in the article is presented well enough that anyone should be able to implement it although those with later forms of mind will, no doubt, be more successful. As always, the right coach will get you there faster.