I have just started at a new company, running a team of seven with the intention of growing. What’s the best way to get to know the team? I was going to do SWOTs but they seem so old fashioned.
Andy: Congrats on the new job! But man, those first interactions with a new group of reports feel so heightened, don’t they?
Emma: There’s definitely a pressure-cooker atmosphere in the early weeks, especially if you’re someone who likes action. Can we just Instapot the getting-to-know-each-other portion of the agenda so we can get down to business?
Andy: Truly getting to know someone is a long and windy process that never really ends and isn’t easy to replicate from person to person. Human beings are just too different — how I got to know Emma is not how I got to know our co-worker, Andrew, over the same few months. So I want to depressurize the situation a little bit before we start getting tactical about it: You will get to know one another. It’s inevitable, just by being alive in the same rooms.
Emma: I’m all for a SWOT or some other framework to help you take stock of your team. But I think that’s the end product that you’ll be compiling over time, mostly because people just aren’t very good at that level of self assessment with a stranger — let alone a stranger who is also their new boss. I don’t think you’ll have a very accurate SWOT assessment until you… get to know your reports. For real. Which is going to take some time and lots of exposure.
Andy: To that end, I will sing my refrain: Set up 1-on-1s and don’t cancel them.
Andy: Now, for some practical tips. I’ve found that when I’m the boss and my aim is Get to know this person, that intentionality comes across as a demand for the other person to perform for me. They must show me their brains, their wit, their grace, their patience, their ingenuity. It’s the kind of impromptu solo that gives me stage fright. My brain seizes up when it hears the call, Be smart! Go! Now! Smarts! Action!
I like to flip the assignment: How can they get to know me? Who am I as their boss? What are the qualities I want them to know I have, and in what situations can I show off those qualities?
Emma: There isn’t a wrong answer here. Great bosses come in all different shapes and senses of humor. A team happy hour with beers and bottomless poppers might be ideal for a great boss who thrives in a casual, approachable atmosphere, and a nightmare for a great boss who has no interest in socializing. Lean into your style, then find activities and opportunities that support it.
Get to Know Your Team & Let Them Get to Know You
These are all strategies we’ve used to understand the people on our teams better, or were particularly effective ways we’ve gotten to know our own managers over the years. Which ones match your style?
● Meet 1-on-1 for 30 minutes each week (Not sure what to talk about? Use this topic selector.)
● Do one of your team’s assignments, then have the group critique it
● Post your previous performance reviews
● Read through the performance reviews of the people on your team, then discuss how things have been going
● Set up bi-weekly feedback sessions for works-in-progress
● Host group crits of external work
● Do a close-reading of each person’s work over the last quarter, or spot-check from the last six months — annotate your favorite pieces, and go over them in your next 1-on-1
● Happy hours!
● Go on a listening tour
● Role shadow: observe each person in their role
● Lead a small Town Hall about what you’re excited about, why you joined the team, what your goals are, etc
● Engage in some water cooler talk: restaurants, movies, the new Ken Burns country music documentary
● Sit in on small-group brainstorms — contribute your ideas, but don’t lead
● Order in lunch and work through a personality test: Meyers-Briggs, Insights, Enneagram, Harry Potter. Talk about where it’s accurate and where it’s not in a 1-on-1. (If you’re very serious about this type of get-to-know-you, you can also hire a full-blown facilitator.)
Andy: I always start with the Good Boss Scorecard as the rubric for my actions. In the first few months, I like to pick two or three qualities to showcase — the ones I think will resonate with the culture of the team, the company we’re at, my initial goals for our work.
When I’ve wanted to show that I’m a thoughtful listener, I’ve had good experiences with a kind of “listening tour,” where I spent 60 minutes with each person on the team, asking what’s awesome, what’s not working, what they have tried to fix and couldn’t, if they could snap their fingers and change something what would it be — things like that. I sit there and listen. I take notes in a Google Doc and make no promises other than I will listen fully and that this isn’t a quiz.
When I wanted to show that I care about the quality of the work, I ran critiques of external work. I demonstrated my point of view and my standards without trying to also coax their existing work into something new or different. That came slightly later.
Emma: Meanwhile, running in the background of every interaction, you’re logging intel: who’s speaking up, who’s asking good questions, whose opinions are aligned with yours, who’s going to need coaching. You’re getting to know your team. And while there will always be some level of performance involved — who doesn’t want to impress their new boss? — the spotlight is a little more diffused. After a couple of weeks, most people won’t even realize it’s happening. It’s just another day at work.
Andy: You’ll have your SWOTs filled out in no time.
Good Boss Achievement Stickers: First Week Managing a New Team Edition