One of the most common questions we get from new supervisors is “how do I go from being on a team with a bunch of my friends to managing them?”.  This is a difficult, yet common transition as many managers are promoted because of their abilities as an employee.  Unfortunately, as a new manager who was promoted from your group of peers, you cannot control the reaction of your team.  Some of your former coworkers might simply be upset because they were passed up or they might not see you as a friend any longer.  However, there are a few things you can do in this situation to make the best of it.

  1. Introduce the Elephant - There is nothing more powerful as a leader then being a little humble and open with your team.  It might be best to start with an open conversation with your team acknowledging the situation.  Tell them that you recognize that the situation is changed and express to them that you will do the best that you can. 
  2. Don’t Pretend Everything is the Same - You might be tempted to try to still be friends with your employees.  This is OK to a point, but you need to acknowledge the new situation and reset expectations.  You can be friendly with your employees, but the old lunch complaint sessions about “the new guy” or “the idiot owner” are now forever gone.  You have to recognize your role as a company representative for your team. 
  3. Communicate Often and Clearly - It is easy to fall into the pit of awkwardness when working with your old friends and avoid them altogether.  As a new supervisor, it is critical that you communicate openly and honestly about your expectations.
  4. Don’t Fight Angry - Sometimes new managers who used to be team members are tested by some of their former coworkers.  A few might test the limits to see what you will let them get away with.  Its hard to go from co-conspirator to management in a short period of time.  When a team member pushes the line, don’t get angry, but simply tell them what is acceptable and not acceptable.  Again, a little vulnerability here might work.  “Hey, I know this is a different situation, but I can’t let you do that and I’d appreciate your help.”
  5. Engage your Team - Just because you are the boss doesn’t mean that you suddenly need to have all of the answers.  “What do you think?” Or “Who has a good idea?” Are powerful questions that will engage your team and let them know that you do care about their opinions. This approach will help to build ownership and combat the common initial perception that your promotion is all about you and not about the team.  

The initial weeks with your new, old team will be challenging, but with some courageous conversations, clarity, and engagement, you will win over your team.

Categories: Management

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