Archives February 2020

8 Actions To Assess and Lead An Inherited Team

You would have thought I would have been smarter!

I was hired as the Chief Administrative Offer for a small town in Canada’s arctic.

During the hiring process, I specifically asked about labour relations and organizational health & culture. “Don’t worry,” I was assured, “we have a great team.”

Read about a new boss as an organizational change

I should have recognized the lie and I later found out I was hired to solve problems.

The organization was top-heavy with 7 Directors for a team of 25, and the residents had unmet needs. Stories about missed opportunities and hints of a toxic culture had drifted upward to the Mayor and Town Council.

All those factors had prompted the decision to replace the out-going CAO with someone from the outside, and I seemed to fit the bill. I had a record of accomplishments in leadership, turning around broken teams and implementing wholesale changes in business models.

But in taking on this new role, I faced a common challenge: I didn’t get to handpick the people who would be working with me.

Rather, I inherited the team that had created the situation I was hired to fix.

It was like fixing a plane in midflight.

You can’t just shut down the plane’s engines while you rebuild them—at least not without causing a crash. You need to maintain stability while moving ahead.

I needed a framework for taking over this team to:

  • Assess the human capital and group dynamics they have inherited;
  • To reshape the team according to the organization’s goals; and
  • Accelerate performance.

Read about surviving the first 90-days as a new boss

What Qualities Are You Looking For?

Like most leaders, you may have a “gut” sense of what you look for in people.

But different situations and challenges call for different strengths.

This exercise will help you better understand and articulate your priorities when you take on a new team.

Assign percentages to the qualities below, according to how much emphasis you think each should receive, given your current circumstances and goals. Make sure the numbers in the right column add up to 100.

Those numbers will be rough, of course. For some team members (say, your head of finance), competence may be the top priority; for others (say, your head of marketing), energy or people skills may be equally or more critical. The importance of the role and the state of the business may also affect your estimates.

Quality Description Importance
Competence Has the technical expertise and experience to do the job effectively
Trustworthiness Can be relied upon to be straight with you and to follow through on commitments
Energy Brings the right attitude to the job (isn’t burned-out or disengaged)
People skills Gets along well with others on the team and supports collaboration
Focus Sets priorities and sticks to them, instead of veering off in all directions
Judgment Exercises good sense, especially under pressure or when faced with making sacrifices for the greater good
Total 100 percent

Your requirements will depend partly on the state of the business. In a turnaround, you will seek people who are already up to speed—you won’t have time to focus on skill-building until things are more stable.

If you are trying to sustain a team’s success, however, it probably makes sense to develop high potentials, and you will have more time to do so.

To conduct this assessment, hold a mix of one-on-one and team meetings, supplemented with input from key stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, and colleagues outside the team.

Also, look at team members’ individual track records and performance evaluations.

Depending on your style, these meetings might be informal discussions, formal reviews, or a combination, regardless you should approach them in a standard way.


Then What?


Review available personnel history, performance data, and appraisals. Familiarize yourself with each person’s skills. Observe how team members interact. Do relations appear cordial and productive? Tense and competitive?

Create an interview template.

Ask people the same questions and see how their insights vary. For example, What are the strengths and weaknesses of our existing strategy? What are our biggest challenges and opportunities in the short term? In the medium term? What resources could we leverage more effectively? How could we improve the way the team works together?

And my favourite question … If you were in my position, what would you do to make things better?

Read about using silence to talk

Look for verbal and nonverbal clues.

Notice what people say and don’t say. Do they volunteer information, or do you have to work for it? Do they take responsibility for problems, make excuses, or point fingers at others? Look for inconsistencies between people’s words and body language, this can signal dishonesty or distrust of management.

Pay attention to topics that elicit strong emotions, this provides clues to what motivates people and what kinds of changes would energize them.

Summarize and share what you learn.

After you’ve interviewed everyone, discuss your findings with the team. This will demonstrate that you are coming up to speed quickly. If your feedback highlights differences of opinion or raises uncomfortable issues, you’ll also have a chance to observe the team under a modest amount of stress. Watching how people respond may lead to valuable insight into team culture and power dynamics.

Reshaping the Team

The next task is to reshape the team within the constraints of the organization’s culture, the leader’s mandate, and the available talent.

You want people to be able to share information freely, identify and deal with conflict swiftly, solve problems creatively, support one another, and present a unified face once decisions are made.


The most obvious way to reshape a team is to replace underperformers and anyone whose capabilities are not a good match for the situation.

But this can be difficult culturally and politically, and in many cases, it’s simply not possible.

Spend the first few months observing employees in critical roles who clearly cannot do the work, or for truly toxic personalities that are undermining the enterprise.


Ensure everyone has a clear sense of purpose and direction.

To get everyone aligned, the team must agree on answers to four basic questions:

  1. What will we accomplish? You spell this out in your mission, goals, and key metrics.
  2. Why should we do it? Here is where your vision statement and incentives come into play.
  3. How will we do it? This includes defining the team’s strategy in relation to the organization’s, as well as sorting out the plans and activities needed for execution.
  4. Who will do what? People’s roles and responsibilities must support all of the above.

Get your team discussion guide here

Accelerate Development

Energize team members with some early wins.

Start by setting challenging goals for the next three months. Specify the work involved and who was accountable for it, and develop messages to share your team’s successes.

Once the team had those successes in place, it kept building on them.

The result is a cycle of achievement and confidence.

The 7 Hidden Reasons Your Employees Leave You

In The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, employee-retention expert Leigh Branham discusses how companies can tackle employee disengagement and retain their best and brightest people.

Nearly 90% of bosses think their employees quit to make more money.

That means nearly 90% of bosses are wrong.

Studies show these are the seven “real” reasons that retention isn’t better:

Ask HR people their top issue these days, and it’s likely to be retention. That’s no surprise. The cost in dollars and disruption of replacing a trained employee is enormous.

What is surprising is how much employers misunderstand why their people leave, author Leigh Branham, SPHR explains that this misunderstanding is evident in one astonishing statistical comparison:

–Employers who think their people leave for more money: 89%

–Employees who do leave for more money: 12%

The latter result, says Branham, founder of retention consultant KeepingthePeople, Inc., comes from a study of 19,700 post-exit interviews done by the Saratoga Institute, an independent research group. The data identified seven “hidden reasons” employees resign. Here are those reasons, along with Branham’s antidote for each:

1) Job not as expected. This is a prime reason for early departures. Branham’s answer: “Give a realistic job preview to every candidate.”

2) Job doesn’t fit talents and interests. Branham attributes this to hiring too quickly and advises employers to “hire for fit. Match their talents to your needs.”

3) Little or no feedback/coaching. Today’s employees, and especially the younger workers, want “feedback whenever I want it, at the touch of a button.” Give it honestly and often, says Branham, and you’ll get job commitment, not just compliance.

Read to get 6 great coaching questions.

4) No hope for career growth. The antidote: Provide self-management tools and training.

5) Feel devalued and unrecognized. Money issues appear here, says Branham, but the category also includes even more employees who complained that no one ever said ‘thanks’ on the job or listened to what they had to say. Address the compensation issue with a system that’s fair and understandable, says Branham. Then listen – and respond – to employee input. “Also, ask yourself ‘how many of my employees get too much recognition?’” 

Read about Attila The Hun & Recognition

6) Feel overworked and stressed out. Branham says this comes from insufficient respect in the organization for the life/work balance of employees. Recommended: Institute a “culture of giving” that meets employees’ total needs.

7) Lack of trust or confidence in leaders. Leaders have to understand that they’re there to serve employees’ needs, says Branham, not the other way around. Develop leaders who care about and nurture their workers, and trust and confidence will develop as well.

Read about trust and high-performance

How significant is the payoff for companies that follow these guidelines?

Branham looks to Fortune’s “Great Places to Work” list, where, he says, companies apply these principles: “While the average S&P 500 company grew 25 percent,” he reports, “these companies grew an average of 133 percent. It pays to treat people right.”

Improve Your Conversations By Not Talking – 3 Tips You Can Start Using Today

I recently read a terrific article on by Lydia Dishman. She writes we all probably talk too much. She notes humans, being social animals, use communication to survive and thrive. This would not be a problem except for the fact 60% of our conversation is spent talking about ourselves.

Sadly, few of us are interesting enough to keep others that engaged 60% of the time. How Do we:

  • Keep people engaged?
  • Get the information we need out of them?
  • Get our message across?

… By using Silence.

Silence is an unlikely source of power. With Silence, we can hear what is being said but also what is not being said. With Silence, it can be easier to reach the truth.

Use one of these tips to use Silence to improve your conversation skills:

  1. When someone has answered a question, pause.

Just as nature abhors a vacuum and rushes to fill it, most people cannot stand Silence, and they will quickly fill those silent parts of a conversation with talk. You will learn the most remarkable things if you just let people talk.

Everyday immigration officers prove this at the border. They ask a question, you answer, and then they go quiet and look at you. Most people prattle on about their trip, how much extra booze or smokes they have brought home, or they fidget and give off body language that says to the officer that they are hiding something.


  1. Are you losing control of a conversation? Ask a question and shut up.

Studies have shown that a person can think twice as fast as they can talk. So when you need to buy yourself some time, ask an open-ended question and allow the person to answer.

Invest that time they are talking into thinking the issue through to move the conversation towards the outcome you want.


  1. When someone asks you a question, pause silently.

 Nobody likes a know-it-all. When you answer too quickly, people think you have not truly considered their question. Even if you are 100% sure of the answer… Pause. Then answer.

You are showing respect for the other person by appearing to consider what was asked and thoughtfully responding.

Click here to read about walking the talk.

If you are spending all day filling the Silence with your voice, you are, in effect, answering your questions. If you are answering your questions all day, who else is working?

Use the power of Silence—no matter how long—until someone gives you the answer you need, and the people on the other half of the conversation will feel empowered and valued.

Then, they will begin to lead themselves.