Every day in organizations across the globe, managers are hired into or assigned to new teams. Building rapport and trust quickly is essential for the team to realize its potential so helping managers and their direct reports adjust to the new leader is paramount. Over the years, I have found a very simple half-day exercise can help accelerate this process and set the new manager and team off on the right foot. This process is known as the New Manager Assimilation Process although I have also heard it referred to as New Manager Quick Start or New Manager Feedback Program. Regardless of the name, it's a simple and effective exercise that only requires a few hours.
There are three major objectives in utilizing the New Manager Assimilation Process:
- To provide direct reports with the opportunity to "get to know" their new manager in a very short period of time.
- To begin to build the basis for a longer-term working relationship between the manager and their team of direct reports, and;
- To lay the foundation, very early on, for open communications, work planning and problem-solving between the manager and their direct reports.
The process itself consists of five sequential phases:
- Data Collection
- Feedback to the New Manager
- Response Preparation
- Manager Response and Discussion
The process begins with the help of a facilitator, who is viewed by the Manager and the direct reports as an objective third party. The credibility of this consultant is very important to the process since they will gather highly confidential data from both the manager and the team. The willingness of the people participating to share such data can be enhanced significantly if the consultant is viewed as objective, trustworthy, able to handle confidences, and competent in organizational development processes.
Phase One: Data collection
This consists of an informal meeting between the consultant and direct reports, usually lasting anywhere between two and four hours. Often this begins with the Manager opening the meeting and explaining that this process is important for the team to quickly build rapport and skip through a process of mutual understanding that often takes months to establish in the regular course of business. The manager implores that they expect candor, that confidentiality will be respected, and they encourage full participation.
The consultant explains the whole process, what they can hope to achieve through it , how it will work, the role they play, and reinforces to everyone that all information shared will be treated with confidentiality.
The facilitator then says they will cover seven basic questions (these can be modified, contracted or expanded depending on the team, the manager, the time and the situation), but essentially the key questions are as follows:
- What do we already know about the new manager?
- What don't we know, but would like to know about our new manager?
- What are our concerns, both group and individual, about this person becoming our new manager?
- What do we want or need most from the new manager?
- What would we like the new manager to know about us, either as individuals or as a group?
- What are the major problems we think the new manager will be focusing on during the first year? (in order of importance)
- How are we going to help our new manager be successful?
Once the questions have been presented, facilitator does their best to go through one question at a time and capture on the flip charts all replies. Data collection offers an opportunity for the team to learn from one another about things they each have observed about their manager in the short time they have worked together that others may benefit from (ie--they answer their phone more at certain times of the day, they have 3 children, they love to play badminton...etc).
Throughout this first part of the program, the consultant must be cautious to help the group walk the fine line that separates an open, honest dialogue from a session filled with nothing but complaints. Data collected in this meeting is for the purpose of constructing a positive foundation on which this new team will be built. It is certainly an appropriate place to air old gripes and raise new concerns, but with the intent of moving the group ahead in a more positive way. Without discouraging data, the consultant can continue to remind the group that this assimilation process is intended to bridge the gap between the new manager and them, not to widen it.
Phase Two: Feedback to the New Manager
Now that the information has been collected, the facilitator can move into the second phase of the process: Feedback to the New Manager. At this point, the team is dismissed and then in a one-on-one meeting with the new manager, the consultant reviews all of the group's responses to the questions .This phase is to help the manager understand the group's responses, identify big themes but not to comment on them.
This feedback process should last anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes.
Once all the data has been reviewed, the new manager should take some private time to work with the facilitator, to reflect on the data and begin to formulate their responses to the information presented. It may also be necessary to gather some additional information not immediately on hand in order to answer some of the questions posed by the group. It's been my experience that the more a candid a new manager is, the more effective the session result. This is not to say that a manager to agree to change some things that are troubling the team but rather be honest about a few things they may not be able to change.
Phase Three: Response Preparation
In any case, the new manager should be allowed sufficient time to prepare his/her response to the direct reports. In my view, the faster the group gets together the better.
This is also an excellent opportunity for a new manager to offer information that the group may not have asked about, but might be important and useful to understand. This could be personal data such as a chronic health issue that often results in unexpected moods or irritation, or job related such as his/her overall strategy for that group.
Phase Four: Manager Response & Discussion
With flip charts or notes prepared, the New Manager candidly presents their response to the questions of the direct reports, face to face. The sessions that I have seen go well with a good blend of candor, humor and reality. Often the manager and facilitator will circle similar themes or hot points that run across all the questions and sometimes that is a good starting point--hit the big areas of interest soon. Other times I have seen as an ice breaker the manager talk about personal things first so a human connection can be established.
The facilitator and manager should encourage follow up questions by the team to the extent they are comfortable and to the extent the managers answers are unclear or feel incomplete. Establishing a dialogue is key. I have seen these meetings run from one hour to five hours depending on the issues and intensity as well as how engaged the group wants to be in talking vs. listening.
Once all topics have been covered and the manager and facilitator ask if there are any remaining items, its good to debrief quickly and ask everyone how they felt about the process.
Phase Five: Follow-up
Invariably, there will be a few issues raised in the discussion that will require follow up so those commitments should be made by the manager as to when they think they can get the answers or input that will help.
In addition, all actions should be captured and follow-up dates and owners assigned. Then, all the charts should be typed up and a follow-up session set for 3-5 months out where the charts can be opened and the group can get a new pulse on where they are with or without the help of a facilitator depending on the recommendation of the team.
Sharing information, exchanging ideas, dispelling myths and discussing issues can help clear the air between a new manager and his/her direct reports and can help them all ease through those traditionally tense first weeks as the organization adjusts to a new member.
Every time I have conducted these sessions, good things happen--even if they involve some tension or conflict at first. It's always a good thing for a new manager to know where the hot issues are with their team and it's always good for the team to know the hot issues for their new manager. Connecting quickly with your new team is critical and this is a very cost-effective and time efficient process.