Whether you’re a first-time manager or are taking over a new team, here’s how to approach that first meeting with your team.
It happened: You’re a new manager now.
Perhaps, it’s the first time you’re leading a team. Or you’re taking over a new team as a manager. Either way, that first meeting as a new manager is a daunting event. What should the agenda for that first meeting with the new team be? How should you set expectations as a new manager? Should you make prepare some sort of “new manager introduction speech”?
First impressions are often lasting ones. And there’s no better time and place to solidify that impression than the first meeting with your entire team.
Whether you’re taking over a brand new team, or you’re a first-time manager, here’s how to approach that first meeting. I’ll walk through what you should be thinking about, some things you can say, and some questions you can ask…
Build trust, don’t chart a vision (yet).
The goal of this initial meeting with your new team is NOT to map out the vision for the next nine months or declare your mandate for change. You’ll have the space (and greater knowledge) to do both in the coming weeks. This first meeting is to establish trust and set the tone for the kind of team environment you wish to foster.
Specifically, as a new leader, you’ll want to internalize these goals for your first meeting:
- Show you’re worthy of your team’s trust.
- Show that you’re humble and ready to learn.
- Show that you’re intention is that you want to help.
This may feel like a passive approach to your new leadership role at first. But keep in mind this one truth: You’re new. And your team will be skeptical of you (rightfully so). So, as tempting as it might be to come into a new team situation and project confidence, certainty, and a sense of direction — know that it will only be seen positively by your team if they trust you. Without trust, your confidence will seem arrogant, your certainty will seem oblivious, and your sense of direction will seem misguided. Nothing moves forward without trust.
How can you build trust within this first meeting? Read on…
Get to know your team members — and take notes.
This may be one of the most over-looked aspects for new managers: Getting to know their team members, personally. Icebreakers can feel forced and trite — but I encourage you to spend some time in your first meeting asking at least a few get-to-know-you-questions to the group. (Here are the 25 best icebreaker questions we’ve found to work well, based on four years of data.) Take notes. Think about how you can incorporate their answers in future interactions, events, etc. For example, someone’s favorite food is ice cream? Consider bringing in ice cream to celebrate their birthday or work anniversary.
Share who you are, more than surface-level stuff.
This isn’t about touting your accomplishments and expertise (though, of course, you can share those things in this first meeting if it feels right). Rather, when introducing yourself to the team, it’s a chance to expose who you really are — what motivates you, inspires you, and brings you fulfillment. The more your team knows of the real you, the more likely they are to trust you.
How to do this? Share your leadership philosophy: What do you see as the purpose of a manager? What do you value? Who do you look up to? What drew you to the organization? Share your intentions: That you are here to help, to help them do the best work of their careers, to get out of their way and support them to accomplish something greater. Share your personal interests: What do you like doing in your free time? What social causes or nonprofits do you support? Be mindful to make sure you don’t spend more than 25% of the meeting, tops, talking about yourself. In building trust, the last thing you want to do is come across as self-absorbed.
Make it clear that you’re in “learning mode.”
If you want to build trust as a leader, you have to be vulnerable. You should let your team know that you don’t have all the answers and you have much to learn. This is one of the hardest parts of being a leader. As leaders, it feels like we’re supposed to have all the answers. Admitting that we don’t can feel like a blow to our sense of self. Yet exposing this vulnerability helps build trust in a team — it shows you’re humble, fallible, and human like the rest of us.
To do this, try saying something like this: “I am the new person here, and so all of you in this room know more than me. You carry with you insights and experiences that I don’t have. I am sponge, and I am to learn from all of you.” No need to beat yourself up and say that you’re ignorant, by any means. Essentially, you are saying that you’re “in learning mode” as a new leader. A learning mindset is one of the greatest ways to show vulnerability, and build trust with your team.
Ask 2–4 probing, thoughtful questions.
The majority of your first meeting as a new manager should be spent asking a few key questions to your team as a group. I’d also strongly recommend setting up separate one-on-one time with each individual employee before or after the first team meeting to further learn what’s on their mind (whichever is most appropriate).
Here are some ideas for questions you can ask…
- What do you want to change in this team?
- What do you not want to change in this team?
- What’s typically been taboo to talk about in the past? What have you been nervous to bring up?
- What looming concerns or apprehension might you have?
- What’s been the most frustrating thing to have encountered with the team lately?
- Where do you see the biggest opportunity for improvement with the team?
- How do you prefer to receive feedback? (Verbal, written, in-person)? How do you prefer to give feedback? (Verbal, written, in-person)?
- What’s been the most motivating project you’ve worked on all year? With whom? And why?
- What excites and energizes you about the company?
- What are you most grateful for in being a part of this company?
- What do you think has been a big obstacle to progress?
- What do you wish was communicated to you more often?
- When have you felt micromanaged? When have you felt like you’ve needed more support?
- Who’s the best boss you’ve ever had and why? The worst boss you’ve ever had and why?
- What was the best team experience for you? The worst team experience?
- How do you like to be shown gratitude?
- How often would you like to set up a standing one-on-one or check- in meeting? Every week? Biweekly? Once a month? Once a quarter?
If this list of questions overwhelms you, remember, you only need to pick two to four of these questions for the all-team meeting. Save the rest for your one-on-one followup conversations.
As you listen to the answers, there are a few things to pay particularly close attention to:
- Listen for the things you can fix, solve, and knock out quickly. Is there a project that is deadweight? Is there a useless policy that’s slowing people down? The best way to build trust with your new team and show that you’re here to help is to actually help.
- Listen for what people view as “success” and progress, and consider how you’re going to define and measure that. As a leader, one of your primary jobs will be to say what “success” is, and how well the team is doing to get there.
- Listen for what people’s communication needs are. What do they feel “in the dark” about? How might people prefer you sharing what’s going on? How regularly will you need to set up touch points with team members?
Be proactive in your next steps
As you wrap up your meeting, one of the worst things you can say as a new manager is this: “Feel free to stop by my office if you need anything.” Don’t say that. Why? You’re implying that if they have questions or concerns, they have to come to you. The burden is on them, not you. Instead, try saying: “In the next __ days, I’ll be setting up a time to meet with each of you. From there, based on your preferences, we can set a standing one-on-one time. In the meantime, if you want to meet anytime sooner, grab me in the hall, send me an email — I’d love to sit down sooner.” There’s a huge difference between the two statements. One is reactive and sounds lazy (the former), while the other sounds proactive and that you want to help (the latter). A strong way to end your first meeting is to show that you’re willing to come to them — that you won’t be waiting for them to bring up issues. You want to show as much proactiveness as possible.
Be prepared for tough questions
Note that you may get asked questions during your meeting such as, “What do you think you’ll change?” and “What do you see as the vision for the team?” Some might be tough to answer, especially with you being new. Be prepared to answer them honestly — and with a good dose of humility. There is much for your to learn. This is only Day 1, and the more you can level with your team that you’re here to learn from them about what the direction or what those changes should be, the better. You’re here to listen and to serve.
This is by no means comprehensive. Every team is different — from who managed the team before you, to the interpersonal dynamics at play, to the challenges that they’re facing with their work. You’ll likely need to tweak some of the question suggestions I offered, or some of the phrases I recommended. Regardless, I hope at the very least these tips give you a framework to start planning your first meeting as a new manager, and kick things off on the right foot.
Best of luck to you!
Claire is the CEO of Know Your Team – software that helps you become a better manager. Her company was spun-out of Basecamp back in 2014. If you were interested, you can read more of Claire’s writing on leadership on the Know Your Team blog.