Six Steps to Engaging and Leading The Team You Inherited

A study by Navalent exploring leadership transitions showed that more than 50% of leaders who inherit a struggling team fail within the first 18 months. 

When managers inherit a team, the situation can seem fragile and knowing where you need to start to bring in change can feel uncertain. 

Such uncertainty highlights the need to figure out how to work effectively with a team you’ve inherited. 

More often than not, the process feels like you’re repairing an airplane in mid-flight. You can’t just stop and rebuild. You must maintain stability while moving forward. 

Managers of newly inherited teams need a framework for transforming a team instead of reforming a new one, and that’s what this article provides. These are the six steps you need to transform your inherited team into your dream team.

1. Assess the Team 

As with most anything else in life, the first move to inheriting your new team is to assess the situation. 

Before you can reshape the team, you must understand what is needed to understand what gap is present between where they’re at and their highest performing abilities. 

Start by getting to know the team. Understand the individuals and their current culture. 

Use my article, 4 Employee Personality Types: Understanding and Managing Different Personalities in the Workplace, to help you get to know each team member and what they need to perform to their best. 

The four personality types that you will find in your team fall into a tool called DISC. 

DISC is a popular personality assessment that helps understand typical patterns of behaviours and emotions of individuals. 


The purpose of this psychometric tool is to give teams a common language to improve their understanding of one another and their communication skills with each other. 

DISC will help you recognize each specified personality style’s characteristics, including your own, and help you and your teammates change your communication to meet each other’s needs. 

You’ll also want to understand what kind of culture your team is currently working in. To get a sense of the team culture, quietly observe how the team interacts and works with each other. 

Be sure to ask questions and get feedback from each member about how they view the team, which is best done between a combination of group and one-on-one meetings. 

Assessing team culture will also help you understand what processes work on the team and what social behaviours need to go. 

Afterwards, compile your data and look for patterns Once you see trends in behaviour, you’ll get a good sense of the group dynamic you inherited. 

For example, a toxic environment might look like groups of individuals who are cliquey, are snide to one another, and talk behind each other’s backs. 

Understanding where your team comes from is the first step in understanding how and where they need to improve.

2. Establish a Connection 

Now that you know who the team is, you must connect with them. 

Psychological safety is the foundational pillar of any high performing team.

Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished when you mess up. It allows team members to feel safe when taking risks or being vulnerable in front of others. 

It’s psychological safety that allows the team to work together as a unit rather than as separate individuals.  

Psychological safety is best established through a sense of belonging. When team members feel a part of the group, they’re better at communicating with each other and working collaboratively, making them more productive collectively. 

To learn to understand how important psychological safety and belonging really are, watch the video below. 👇

3. Be Transparent With Changes 

Another important competency of a successful team is trust. 

To establish trust among a team, you can’t wait for it to be earned; it must be given outright. 

When you start by sharing your trust with your team, they will soon learn to trust you too. 

The best way to start establishing this culture of trust is to be transparent about the changes you plan to make on the team. 

Be honest about what you’ve seen on the team and where you think the team can grow. 

Everyone reacts better when they know ‘the why,’ so explain to the team why you think they’re at the current position and why you think your strategy will help them develop.  

Don’t be afraid to take feedback from the team when you share your plans. You want team growth to be a collaborative effort as it will reinforce commitment from team members. 

4. Clarify Team Objectives 

Once your team knows the changes you want to make, turn this growth into a set of milestones. 

Establishing clear objectives the team can reach will make the journey to improvement much more motivating. 

Clear objectives also help establish direction and the path towards improvement. 

When team members have a clear direction to follow, they will be much more likely to achieve the necessary goals towards improvement.

5. Identify Early Wins

Now that your team knows where they’re going, be sure to create some early wins to help them get there. 

We live in a culture that thrives on instant gratification, so it is much more motivating to see progress and achievement early on and later in the game. 

Creating a set of early wins for the team will accelerate their development and improve their performance. 

Team members will be excited about reaching success right away, and this excitement will translate into more efficient work resulting in an overall improvement of the team’s performance.

6. Integrate a New Operating Model

The final step in transforming the team you inherited is integrating a new operating system. 

Once the team has an established connection, a clear direction, and some wins under their belt, it’s the perfect time to integrate new and more efficient processes. 

For example, you can start requesting team members send in their lists of tasks, or start hosting weekly/daily meetings to discuss what the team is working on, what needs to be achieved and where help is needed. 

Keep in mind that it’s important to remain collaborative and take feedback when creating new procedures as team members are the ones working under the new protocol.

The part of team transformation will likely be the slowest as it may take many iterations before finding the processes that work best for everyone. 

As you transform your newly inherited team, remember to be persistent in your process. 

There will be many ups and downs along the way, but you will find new success and greater performance if you use these six steps. 

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