Assimilate New Leaders for Greater Impact

Too often, the onboarding process in many organizations emphasizes learning the functional areas of one’s new role to learn processes and protocols.  We advise executives to consider the onboarding period to be the first 6-12 months, not a mere 90 days.  While intensity will decrease as time goes on, increasing the timeline allows for additional learning and relationship building.  

Since leaders get their work done primarily through the efforts of others, we encourage prioritizing building relationships with their teams early on.   An “assimilation session” can be a great way to kick this off. This typically occurs as a facilitated session with the team and the new leader ranging from several hours to a full day.  To be most impactful, dialogue and relationship-building needs to continue in different ways.  

A successful leadership assimilation session should include:

Experienced Facilitation: 

The session should be facilitated by someone other than the new leader or the leader’s boss.  It could be an external resource (coach or consultant) or a trusted internal resource (e.g. HR).  In either case, beyond experience, the facilitator should be someone who can encourage the leader and the team to be open and engaged without fear of retribution. 

Preparing the Leader and the Team:  

Asking the new leader to consider questions in advance will help create a thoughtful conversation.  The team should also have some advanced notice of what will occur, areas they may want to discuss and the purpose for the session.  Assessments or a survey, if applicable, may also need to be distributed prior to the session.

Team and Individual Assessments:  

Using workplace style assessments such as Predictive Index tools will reveal a great deal about the behavioral preferences and motivating needs of the leader and each team member.  They can also show what the collective team profile looks like. Do you have a group of mavericks or a team of analyzers?  Where are the strengths and gaps?  One software company I worked with had a highly extroverted CEO with strengths in sales and marketing who was leading a group of highly analytical introverts.  Building awareness and respect for the gifts each person brings to the party helped to foster trust and agreement on how to best work together.  

Set the Guidelines:  

The facilitator should let everyone know what the process is and that each person is expected to contribute to the conversation. Encouraging open dialogue and questions requires agreeing on some boundaries such as respecting different opinions and keeping individual comments confidential.  

The New Leader Opens:   

Sharing information about what brought the leader to this role, how to describe their management style and preferred communication modes can be useful as well as revealing something personal to demonstrate vulnerability and personality.  The team will also want to understand the leader’s expectations, priorities and anticipated challenges.  Some of this can be shared during opening remarks, while the remainder can be covered throughout the session.

Team Discussion without the Leader Present:  

After some opening remarks and establishing guidelines, the new leader leaves the room while the facilitator poses questions to the team.  Larger teams may split off into small groups to ensure all have a chance to participate. The team will indicate what they want to know about the new leader, what concerns they might have, recommendations to share, and expectations they have of their new boss.  They will also share anything about their history, values, culture, group norms or challenges they feel important for the new leader to know. All are encouraged to participate and assured that the information will be presented to the new leader without attribution to any particular person.  

Debriefing with the New Leader:  

The facilitator brings the aggregated team input back to the new leader in a private session to give the leader a chance to reflect on the comments and provide a response where appropriate.  

Having the New Leader Respond:   

Next the new leader and team come together and the facilitator reviews the key points or questions posed by the team for the leader to respond to or ask clarifying questions.  Often this dialogue raises a variety of ideas, commitments or next steps for the team and leader to take forward or explore further.  

Discussing What Comes Next:  

While an assimilation session can serve as a great kickoff for open dialogue, ongoing efforts are needed to ensure the clarity, trust and commitment needed for positive team performance.  Having a combination of team and individual sessions helps to build relationships, understand job roles and expectations and each person’s unique working style and motivating needs.  

Agree on Expectations and Goals:  

The outcome will be having agreement for mutual expectations, how the team will work together with their new leader and what the goals are for the upcoming period (3-6-9-12 months).  Establishing ongoing mechanisms for communication, reporting on progress and holding one another accountable will help the leader and the team keep the momentum going.  

Successfully onboarding a new leader is a process, not a discreet event.  Including team assimilation efforts will allow the leader to tap into the team to get up to speed faster, assess the available talent strengths and gaps and make a collective impact while avoiding landmines. 

Contact us for further ideas on successfully onboarding your new managers and leaders whether they be internal promotions or hired from the outside.