Whether you've taken over a new department or started your own company with employees you only met through the hiring process, you're going to be responsible for leading people you don't really know. If you have only had people you've known for a long time working for you in the past, you need to make sure you're doing and saying the right things.

Carolyn O'Hara, a writer and editor, writes in the Harvard Business Review about what you need to do to establish your leadership and get the team working together. As a leader, you know you can't just set your things on your new desk in the corner office and start bossing people around. Employees need to have a sense of who you are, know what your definition of success is, and trust your process.

"If you don't take time up front to figure out how to get the team working well, problems are always going to come up," Mary Shapiro, a professor of organizational behavior at Simmons College and the author of the HBR Guide to Leading Teams, tells HBR. "You either pay up front or you pay later." 

The urge to put your head down and get work done right away will be strong, but if you don't put the time in to form relationships from the first day, you will not gain a handle on your employees. The first few days are about establishing camaraderie--getting to know your employees and starting to build relationships with each one. Get to know their good and bad experiences with teams they've worked with in the past.

Below, find out other important steps you need to take as a leader of an unfamiliar team.

Communicate your values

While you are building relationships with your employees, you also need to impart your values, the way you think, how you will measure performance, how you make decisions, and how you expect them to work, O'Hara writes. "Team members will want to know how you define success," Shapiro tells HBR. By the end of the first week, your team needs to know what success means in your mind. Michael Watkins, the co-founder of Genesis Advisers and author of The First 90 Days, says you need to be transparent. Being open and honest from the beginning will help to "create positive momentum around yourself in the new role." 

Create goals with the team

You need to have authority, but sometimes it is better to allow the team to exercise some control over what needs to be achieved. If you jump in and start declaring unrealistic, dramatic goals, the team members will not respect you. You can gain their respect, however, by asking them for input. Be ambitious, O'Hara writes, but make sure the goals you set are achievable with the company's resources. "It's actually rare that someone gets to come in and redefine the goals for the group in a profound way," Watkins says. He explains that instead of overhauling the entire set of goals, you should focus on strategy and reorganization to achieve existing goals.


The first few months will be successful only through clear, direct communication. If the team members aren't used to expressing themselves, and confusion is a daily hassle, you need to establish daily conversations about what needs to get done. "It's always better to start with more structure, more touch points, more check-ins at the beginning," Shapiro says. Remember, employees feel good when the boss talks to them. "I've never encountered a situation where a team member says, 'Gosh, I wish the boss would stop communicating with me. I'm so sick of hearing from her.' You just never hear that," Watkins says.

Solve a long-standing problem quickly

At the same time you're dealing with orientation and learning the ins-and-outs of the office, team, and company, it is important to prove your effectiveness. Watkins says it is important to show your ability to listen and get something done--to identify and solve a long-standing problem at the company. Is there a system or process that has frustrated the employees? A home run project that needs funding but got lost in the shuffle? Flex your leadership muscles and take initiative on something with speed and precision. Watkins says an "early win" can build momentum within the team. "It motivates people and can win you goodwill you might need later if the going gets tough," Shapiro adds.