Does your new job come with a side (or heaping helping) of team leadership? If so, you should be prepared for a set of challenges that are very different that those you'd face if you were promoted from within.

There's a lot of advice for those coming in to lead from the outside: Get to know the work and the individual team members first. Hold off on changing direction until you can assess the existing landscape. Seek multiple perspectives on both operational and strategic issues. In short, take some time to know your new environment before asserting your vision and making any drastic changes.

Exactly how you do this is largely up to you, but it will include reading existing plans, talking with people, reviewing the numbers, and asking a lot of questions. While the financial statements and processes are black and white, conversations with your team will reveal a much squishier, more complex picture of what's really going on in the organization.

A friend and former colleague of mine recently started a new job as a senior team lead. After two weeks, she'd successfully met everyone and had some one-on-one time with each team member. She called me on the way home to say that her head was spinning. Some staff unloaded in their conversations, others were difficult to get talking. Their perspectives on the health of the business and team morale ranged from, "Everything's fine, though some people are a bit dramatic" to "Everything is broken and people need to be fired." She had the weekend to figure out her next step, how to make sense of the wide range of perspectives she'd heard, and how she wanted to respond as their leader.

So, how do you assess the true dynamic on your new team? You observe, have more conversations, and show restraint. As a new leader, you can't take sides. It's better to learn all that you can about each perspective and gain the trust of your new employees, because nothing else will progress smoothly without the solid foundation of a committed, loyal team.

Recently, five researchers, business consultants, and authors teamed up and combined their experience and insight into The Loyalist Team. The book describes four types of teams: the saboteur, the benign saboteur, the situational loyalist, and the loyalist. They provide a questionnaire you complete as a leader to help identify what type of team you have. They then offer recommendations on how to move your team to greater cohesion and productivity by switching your team from a sabotaging mindset to one of mutual respect, commitment, and accountability.

Leadership is difficult in any environment. It can be made more challenging when you're new to the organization and trying to get to know the business and the group you're leading. Taking a deliberate approach to getting to know people, seeking multiple perspectives, and giving yourself time to form your own opinion before making changes will put you on firmer footing. From this solid foundation, you'll be able to achieve the positive impact you came to make.

If you liked this column, subscribe to email alerts in the Work Life Lab and you'll never miss a post.

Published on: Nov 30, 2017