Taking On A New Team

Starting a new job is hard. There’s a new culture to adapt to, and new projects and procedures to learn. And if you’re a manager, you also have the challenge of taking on a new team. Today we’ll be talking with Joanna Hoffschneider, industry vet and Vice President of Business Development and Marketing at Grimm + Parker, about how to turn your NEW team into YOUR team.

I’ve learned the very hard way, that coming in and doing less and listening more will work so much better.

CQ: In an October 2012 Forbes article titled “Six Ways Successful Teams are Built to Last,” author Glen Llopis states, “Team building is both an art and a science and the leader who can consistently build high performance teams is worth their weight in gold.” In your opinion, what characteristics define a high performance team?

JH: Low drama, high productivity, a congruence between the team’s goals, and the business goals, and, ideally, having some fun along the way.

CQ: In your experience, which type of team structure seems to function better: one that’s flat, or one with hierarchy?

JH: So, I’m going to betray myself as a Gen X’er who tests out with the Baby Boomers – and is a Brit. I LIKE hierarchy. I own that. I think hierarchy at its best gives us all a sense of certainty, and security, and sense of where the buck stops. Hierarchy at its works can be incredibly controlling and disempowering and constricting. I think, particularly given what we do – when you’re under pressure, when you’re under a time constraint, on deadline, when something goes wrong – somebody needs to make the decision. And sometimes that comes down to who’s the boss.

The other type of duality of teams, is whether you’re colocated or spread across different locations. Having a flat team across multiple locations, you have to know yourself. You have to have really good communication skills. You have to be able to have brave discussions, often without the benefit of body language or having a wrap-around relationship to make those conversations easier, because there is no clear hierarchy to aid the dynamic there. Essentially, I think there’s an advantage to both, but I think most teams want to know who is their leader. Everyone wants leadership, not everyone wants management, and it can be tricky to get one without the other – but having a sense of who’s in charge helps.

CQ: As a manager joining a new team, what does that first week look like for you?

JH: Terrifying, ha! It is pretty daunting. You come in, and the firm has done this lovely thing of really pumping you up in advance. You’re supposed to come in and fix everything, for everybody. Everyone wants everyone else to change, while not wanting to change anything about themselves. But usually, they’ve hired you as a change agent. Oh, and you’re supposed to do all of this within the first 90 days without ruffling any feathers. So there’s no pressure there at all. Also, your first week is a little bit of the “fashion show” where you get traipsed around to everyone in the firm. It’s a long week of making a fabulous first impression – again, and again, and again. While honestly, you probably just want to spend your first week with your team.

CQ: When you’ve taken positions like this in the past, have you met your marketing team in advance of starting?

JH: It’s been a mixture, but I think it goes better when you have. Though the larger a team is, the less important it is to have met the team – with the proviso that you can accidentally make a “them” and “us” when you’ve met some of the team members and not the others. I think it also sends a pretty clear signal from the big boss to whether you’re being brought in to lead the existing team or to clean house. Whose agenda are you serving? Are you serving a top-down agenda, or are you setting a new team agenda and leading that out? Either way, I think meeting people beforehand can reduce anxiety.

CQ: What are some other challenges that come with joining a new team that leaders should be aware of?

JH: You’ve been hired for who you are and what you’ve already done, but you’ve also been hired to mesh with this organization. The cultural alignment there can take a little while. And as a leader, you want to come in and make change. I don’t know what the people who aren’t Type A people are like, but if you’re a Type A person, you want to come in and DO something. I’ve learned the very hard way, that coming in and doing less and listening more will work so much better at the 90-day and 180-day marks. Generally, the more change I’ve tried to push through in the first 30 days, the more I’ve had to fix in the first six months.

CQ: How do you go about turning A team into YOUR team?

JH: It’s changed over the years through some pretty humbling experiences. I think the first thing you need to do to really be successful is recognize that the vision needs to be a shared vision. How does that vision get developed? Some of it starts during the interview process. From the questions that you’re asked to the information that’s shared, you’ve got some idea of what the corporate agenda is and what the expectations are around your role. Coming in as a leader, it’s pretty frequent that you will be asked to share that vision ahead of time. I understand the reasoning behind that, but I think as a company you’re asking someone to operate in a void and to take an arrogant position of assuming they know what the vision should be. So it’s helpful to come in with an outline plan – but I really emphasize the word outline. You need to check your ego, and balance that vision with the corporate vision, the nuances of the industry, and the reality of the tools at your disposal.

Rather than imposing that vision on the team, I think the best way to make it a shared vision is to do a rollout, and do more than just get buy-in – because buy-in means “I’m tolerating your vision” too much of the time. Ask people, what do you want to take on? What gets you excited here? What am I missing? And don’t just listen to what people say, listen to what they don’t say. That can be much more important. It takes time, and you need to be willing to adjust. You also need to be managing up at the same time so that your bosses understand that you’re working in sand and not in stone at this point and everything’s changing.

CQ: What if you come in and there are some changes that need to be made? How do you address that without losing the support of the rest of the team?

JH: It’s hard. I think that I would start by thinking about what you mean by the word support. There’s personal support, and then there’s professional support. There’s people having professional confidence in you and then people having personal confidence in you. If you have to fire someone – because that’s what we’re talking about for all that we don’t want to say the words – you will lose personal support. You just will. But if you’re a team leader, and you’re still coming to work to make friends, then you’re doing it wrong. That sounds really harsh and old fashioned, but I don’t think it’s something that we talk about enough. Firing someone should never be a personal decision, it should be a professional decision. Be honest with your team. Be respectful always. That respect piece is enormous – people know if you’re operating with integrity and they respond accordingly. Know your organization, leverage HR when you can, leverage your boss, but don’t have anyone else do your dirty work for you. Make sure that you’re the one delivering the message. Team members should know from YOU, not from the water cooler.


Want to hear more from Joanna? Listen to the full podcast for discussion on making tough calls in a small industry, and Joanna’s personal experience with trying to change too much, too fast.

Music by SONGO 21 – Studio sessions 2003 by SONGO 21 is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.

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About Joanna

Lifelong expat with a background in teaching and training, proud to be part of an industry that shapes the human experience through the built environment. Marketing fuels my right brain/left brain connection, sometimes feels like the teaching I miss, and gives me opportunities for public speaking which I perversely adore!

An agile career path has given me a sense of how projects really get done and the ability to maintain an outside perspective on business and marketing processes and solutions.

Mother of a high school senior, newly returned urban dweller, proud non-pet owner, lover of good chocolate and avid walker.

Have questions or want to chat more with Joanna? Post your comments below or connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Double Dip with Joanna

Join us Thursday on the podcast when we’re back with Joanna to learn more about her career, what she learned from her first job in the US, and how she continues to push herself and grow as a professional.

Music by SONGO 21 – Studio sessions 2003 by SONGO 21 is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.


Next week, Kate and I will be taking a break for the Memorial Day holiday. We hope you all have some serious relaxation planned. Long weekend, here we come! New episodes will be back June 6th when we’ll be talking with Heather Davis, Managing Director of Brand + Culture with MGAC (and my boss!) about the art of facing and having difficult conversations.