How to Get Your New Team Off to a Strong Start

Posted 05.21.2015

runnerstart2If you’re a leader in your organization, there will be multiple times in your career when you have to get a new team off to a strong start. One of the critical steps in that process is when you bring the team members together for the first time. That’s a rare opportunity to define the purpose, build trust, establish the ground rules and set the priorities. Like they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Make the most of it by giving some thought to that first team meeting and taking some time to prepare for it.

One of my executive coaching clients recently faced this exact situation. He’s leading a start-up team and has been in heavy recruiting mode filling the key positions on the team. After months of hard work, he’s gotten everyone hired for his leadership team. In talking through what he wanted to accomplish in his first leadership team meeting and how he wanted to approach the meeting, we came up with a simple four-part agenda that would work for almost any first meeting of a team.

It’s built on four one-word questions.  Feel free to use it the next time you need to get a new team off to a strong start. Here’s the agenda:

Why?:  Open the meeting with a discussion of why this team even exists. What’s your purpose? How does fulfilling that purpose contribute to the larger organization, your customers and other stakeholders? The goal here is to articulate and connect with why the work of this team matters.

Who?:  This is the part of the agenda where you lay the foundation of connection and trust among the team members. Have everyone introduce themselves but go beyond the common who you are and what you do script. I like to use a technique I learned from Pat Lencioni in his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Ask everyone to take a couple of minutes to speak to three questions: Where did you grow up? How many kids were in your childhood family? What was the biggest challenge of your childhood? I’ve used these questions dozens of times over the years and have found that they do an amazing job of connecting people quickly. In even the most diverse group of people, there’s always one thing everyone has in common – they were all kids once. Get them connected by talking about that common experience.

How?:  As the team leader, come to the meeting with clear ideas about how you want the team to work together. You may have some non-negotiable ground rules and you may have some that are nice to do but not essential. Either way, put them on the table. To get your team to buy into them, ask for their ideas on how they’ll know the ground rules are working. What will the behavioral evidence be that everyone is playing by the rules? The more they can articulate that, the more they’ll know how to hold themselves and each other accountable.

What?:  This is part of the agenda where you answer the classic question, “What does success look like?” Make that tangible and actionable for everyone by defining success at a point in the future (two years from now for instance) and then working your way back from that to success markers on the way to that end state. Land on what success looks like over the next 30 to 90 days. That specific picture of what success looks like in the very near term should establish momentum and set you up nicely for your next check-in together.

What do you think? Would this team start-up agenda work for you? What would you change or add to it?