How to Develop an Existing, Inherited Team (Watkins)

Stages of Team Development
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Chloe Xu
Director, Australia

How to Develop an Existing, Inherited Team (Watkins)

Leading a team inherited from a predecessor is quite different from building one from scratch. Obviously, most newly appointed leaders have limited familiarity with their team, they didnít get to handpick the people who would be working with them, and sometimes they lack the necessary political power or resources to immediately replace personnel. They therefore should work out an effective way to drive the inherited team to run the business, or even fix the current situation.

There is a framework developed by Michael D. Watkins for leaders when taking over and transforming a team: Assessing, Reshaping, and Accelerating Team Development.
    It is imperative for new leaders to determine if they have the right people doing the right things in the right way for the organization moving forward. Also, team assessment should be systematic. Most leaders may have a gut feeling of what they typically look for in people. But different situations and challenges call for different team characteristics. Developing an assessment on each team member by stating explicitly the criteria based on the particular challenges, the state of the business, and how essential the specific personís role is to meet the team goals therefore is important.
    When conducting an effective assessment, a mix of one-on-one and team meetings, supplemented with input from key stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, and co-workers outside the team is preferable. Team membersí individual resume and performance evaluations help too.
    The next task after assessment is to reshape the team within the constraints of the organizationís culture, the leaderís expectation, and the available talent. Desired high-performance behaviours can be promoted by focusing on four factors: teamís composition, its alignment with a shared vision, its operating model, and its integration of new expectations.
    • Composition. Leaders can either wait for normal turnover to create space for the types of people they want, or seek positions in other departments of the organization that might suit people who are valuable but not a match for their team, or, if they have enough resources, to groom high potentials to take on new responsibilities.
    • Alignment. Ensure that everyone has a clear sense of purpose and direction, and offer a full set of rewards, including compensation and benefits, interesting work, and potential for advancement to motivate the alignment.
    • Operating model. Think creatively about the teamís operating model, identify the real constraints of getting things done. Rethink meeting frequency and agendas and identify how and when people should come together to do the work.
    • Integration. This involves establishing ground rules and processes to feed and sustain desired high-performance behaviours and to serve as a role model for team members. Of course, leaders should live these new principles and processes themselves and reinforce desired behaviours to improve group dynamics.
    Building on their assessment and reshaping of the work, leaders need to encourage their team members with some early wins. Once the team has those successes in place, it can keep building on them. The result will be a virtuous cycle of achievement and confidence.
⇒ I am hoping you will share further experiences on shaping an existing team.Thank you.
Source: Watkins, M. D. †June 2016. Leading the Team You Inherit. Harvard Business Review, 61-67.

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