3 Questions Every New Manager Should Ask

new managers need to build a foundation of trust

When people think of “onboarding”, many people often think of “orientation”.  Even the most seasoned learning professionals are guilty of this!  If you’ve read this earlier post, you’ll remember that we explored this topic, but it bears further exploration…

Orientation is part of onboarding, but not all onboarding is orientation!

So, let’s think beyond the basics…what happens during a new manager’s first few weeks?  After he goes through any standard orientation activities, and he is settling into his role?  While he is trying to make connections and learn about his team and manager?

During the first week, the new manager is being introduced to the company, the team, and the expectations of his new role.  Once the pleasantries are exchanged, it’s time to start doing something about the team structure! With his team, a manager needs to explore these three questions:

1. Where have we been?

There are a number of questions that the team can answer to provide clarity and context to a new manager.  2-3 days prior to a team meeting, the manager can submit questions like these to the team and encourage them to ponder the topics.  They can bring answers or just be prepared to discuss at a team meeting.

  • What words can describe our team’s history?
  • What are some major achievements our team has accomplished?
  • How was our team “born”?
  • What are some challenges the team has faced in the past?
  • How did the team overcome those challenges?

Before a new manager can adequately assess his team, he needs to know the origin of the team and gain understanding to “why we are the way we are”.

2. Where are we today?

Unless the manager is coming in to develop and lead a brand-new team, he needs to gauge where the past has brought the team and consider the current state of the team, individually and collectively, as well as projects and initiatives that are currently in progress.  Some questions the team can discuss include:

  • What are the team’s strengths?
  • What are the team’s weaknesses?
  • How do we bring value to the organization?
  • Who are our customers?
  • How do we bring value to our customers?
  • What are the organization’s top priorities/objectives right now?
  • What are OUR top priorities today?
  • How do our priorities align with organizational objectives?  Or do they?

A new manager needs to know how his team is perceived in the organization.  As he gains context about these perceptions, only then can he craft his strategy to move forward.

3. Where are we going?

Making progress.  In the book, The First 90 Days, the author states the importance of diagnosing the team’s current situation, and determining what immediate challenges should be addressed right away.  It is crucial to deliver results in the first few months on the job!

Once the manager has gathered relevant info from the team, through both team and individual meetings, he can work with his own manager to determine priorities, obstacles and outcomes.  When executed efficiently, these outcomes will build early credibility for the new manager and for the redefined team.  This also sets a precedent for open communication, proactive leadership and trust.

Where are we, and where are we going?  It’s something that every new manager needs (and deserves!) to know when he takes the reins of a team.  Is there a way you can build something into your onboarding program to enable new managers to facilitate these conversations?  Can you provide the tools, resources and encouragement?  I’d love to hear your ideas, and how you have worked with new managers in your organization.

On a personal note…

In the spirit of the holiday season, I hope you have been enjoying a wonderful season with those dearest to you, full of love and laughter.  Thank you for your continued comments, shares, emails and creativity.  Here’s to a successful, prosperous 2013!  Cheers!

– Michelle

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2 thoughts on “3 Questions Every New Manager Should Ask

  1. I enjoyed your blog posting titled “3 Questions Every New Manager Should Ask”. You gave some excellent tips for how to ask team members to describe the history of the organization and work unit. The other questions help the new manager gain a sense for where the team thinks they are going (vision).and doing (mission). If a team does not share a common vision the individuals can end up working on seemingly worthwhile projects that fail to support the manager, mission, or organization’s goals. Good article!

    1. Hi Jerry! Thanks for your comment! I agree, before a new manager can effectively jump into the responsibility of leading (and potentially making changes to!) an already-formed team, s/he really needs context and clarity…to learn and understand the team’s story!

      Happy New Year! :)
      -Michelle

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