Transitioning from team member to team leader

Sharon Rush

The Perspective

In my line of work, I try to never lose sight of how grateful I am to those who share their true work life experiences with me. As companies go through endless downsizing, restructuring and uncertainty, some employees find themselves taking on more responsibility and ultimately changing job roles. In many of these circumstances, there is lack of direction, often no coaching and very rarely support. Commonly the solution is to organise a training course and hope for the best. As I navigate my way through the maze of these somewhat familiar tales shared by my participants, a topic that comes up frequently is how do you now manage a team that you were once part of?

The Challenges

Most of us are fortunate enough to be specialists in our craft and want success. One way to climb the corporate ladder is to do an excellent job (goes without saying) then go the line management route and mange other specialists. We then find ourselves with two jobs and often without the skills or confidence to do them. With practice, training, coaching and self-education we can succeed to some degree. Where we can fall short is how we allocate tasks and lead our team members, colleagues, maybe even friends. We were once part of the “gang”, we still are, yet the expectations are different now.

Once the job status or job title changes, there are perceptions, conclusions and expectations to be mindful of for everyone. Whether we are totally conscious of it or not, the way we communicate with our colleagues will change and that can lead to some problems if we don’t self- manage our own expectations first. Let me share some of the generic challenges my hard-working participants have disclosed.

The Possible Consequences

Scenario 1: I’m the boss now

There’s the “I’m now the boss so I’ll micromanage you on every level even though you’re very competent and you have been doing the job for years.” Possible consequences: team members withdrawing their discretionary effort, leave the job or even worse stay in the job and don’t contribute.

Scenario 2: I can’t decide for them

We also see the “I’m still one of the gang so I’ll ignore difficult decisions, as I may lose friends, so I’ll decide by consensus or take a vote or abdicate from the decision altogether. ”Possible consequences we’ve experienced: tasks don’t meet deadlines or don’t get completed, loss of respect for the leader or conflict that hinders the success of team work.

Scenario 3: I’m too important now

We can’t forget the “I’m very busy, lots of meetings (as I’m very important), it’s over to you now”. Possible consequences: the team loses direction, may become resentful, and in worst cases, grievances are brought against the team leader.

Bridging the gap

In times of uncertainty, change and restructuring, setting expectations for the team you have now found yourself managing is the safest way. I’ve found that people feel more secure about the change that has been thrust upon them or that they are driving if there is a clear direction. Accountability conversations are clumsy and less effective if no expectation has been outlined in the first place.

Outline what you expect from the team as soon as you can. Not just the objectives, targets etc. but talk about the behaviours and attitudes you expect. Share how you like to manage others and ask how they like to be managed, no room for assumptions here. Don’t monologue, encourage dialogue.

Once you’ve outlined expectations and you start delegating tasks, delegate to the team member who has the competence and confidence level to fulfil the task to the level you expect.

When it comes to decisions, be open and honest how you’re going to make them go forward. Some will be autocratic; some will be autonomous. Be transparent on how those decisions will be thought out and acted through. Communication is an important element of the leadership skillset and we are happy to help you on your journey to becoming a good leader.

This blog post has been written by Sharon Rush, Founder, Coach and Leadership facilitator at The Skillset Group Ltd.