Published: February 18, 2011
Jennifer Selby Long, Selby Group
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My Favorite Technique for New Leaders

ponderingMany Traveling Light readers long ago mastered the fundamentals of taking on a new team, so today I’d like to share my favorite all-purpose technique to step up your game. This technique is the new leader assimilation focus group.

The focus group is comprised of your team and takes place 90 days into your tenure. The focus group meets once, for about one hour, and is professionally facilitated. After the focus group meeting, the facilitator meets with you to share the key themes that emerged.

Why is this my favorite technique? For starters, it allows issues to surface that otherwise just wouldn’t get air time. It asks very little of your busy team, just an hour. It reinforces how serious you are about feedback. It gives you a chance to course correct very early. It’s an opportunity to learn what your team experiences as a result of your leadership. Logistics are a breeze because it can be conducted face-to-face or the facilitator can use any of the collaboration tools available in the company. It requires only intermediate facilitation skills, so it’s easy to find qualified resources to do the project. That all adds up to big impact for a low investment of your time.

First, find a facilitator. Many people are experienced enough in facilitation to serve in this role: your executive coach, management consultants, project/portfolio managers, operations managers, marketing research managers, human resources managers, and in the largest companies, internal change management or organizational development managers.

What should you look for? The facilitator must be comfortable dealing with confidential and sensitive data. He or she must be willing and able to share all tough feedback with you. He or she must be separated from your business and hierarchy so that there is no vested interest in the outcome or professional risk associated with doing this project. The facilitator should also be able to stay firmly in a facilitative role so that you remain the leader. You’re the one who invites your team to participate and who follows up to share your plan for addressing any issues raised. You’re the one who owns and leads the process.

Facilitators with extensive experience should bring their own checklists of questions as a starting point for the meeting. For facilitators who are new to this, I’ve included a list of questions at the end of this article.

You’ll also think of other questions that are unique to your situation. Just be sure the final list is appropriately brief. The best approach is quasi-structured. This means that the facilitator will ask a few questions, but devotes most of the time to a deeper exploration.

So first enlist a facilitator. Invite your team to participate. Work with the facilitator to prepare questions. Sit tight while the focus group happens. Meet with the facilitator to hear the feedback. Prepare a plan. Follow up with the group and execute the plan. Follow these steps and you’ll quickly up-level your new team leadership.

Questions for a New Leader Assimilation Focus Group

1. What do you already know about ____________?

2. What don’t you know but would like to know about ___________?

3. What changes, if any, have you experienced since ___________ became the leader of this team?

4. What are your concerns about _____________ becoming your leader?

5. What do you need most from __________?

6. What do you think _____________ most needs from you?

7. What does ____________ need to know about you as a team, that he or she may not know or understand?

8. How do you know when this leader thinks something is important? Is that similar to or different from your last leader?

9. Is it clear how the leader will measure performance?

10. How will the team know if the leader is dissatisfied with performance?

11. How candid do you believe you can be with this leader?

12. How effective is the leader’s communication style?

13. Do you feel you get the right amount of the leader’s time, and if not, how should this change?

14. Do you feel you have appropriate involvement in decisions? 



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