I’ve always built teams from scratch. Doing so enabled me to set culture and values, to hire to fill the gaps in my knowledge and to grow relationships from the ground up. It made me entirely responsible for the outcome of those hiring decisions.
Recently, I moved to Germany (not Berlin!) to join vintage clothes platform Vinokilo as their first CTO and head of e-commerce. I inherited a team — a group of people I had no say in hiring and who’ve been working together for at least a year (and a few of them a lot longer).
I’ve learnt that in inheriting a team, there are five things to look out for:
1) Be radically candid
Wanting to be perceived as the perfect boss can lead to dishing out unfounded praise, not calling things out, doing others’ work yourself… and so on. This isn’t maintainable and shows a lack of respect for your team’s intellect.
They don’t need you to be likeable; they need you to do your job.
I recently read Radical Candor by Kim Scott which, despite being very Silicon Valley, contains valuable insight, especially when it comes to feedback loops. If you’re too negative and force your opinion and demands on the team, this top-down behaviour will create fear of failure and ensure creativity is killed. If you praise highly without cause, you create a false sense of what success looks like.
“They don’t need you to be likeable; they need you to do your job.”
There’s a balance to be had and that lies in being bluntly candid. This can be delivered nicely — honesty doesn’t automatically turn you into a monster. Encourage similar behaviour in your team to criticise and praise you — because they will do it behind your back if not to your face.
2) Do less work
In a new role, you start with a lot of ‘new me’ intentions. I wanted so hard to retain that inbox zero (I’m at 151 unread eight weeks in…), I’d moved all my Trello cards to ‘done’ and I was replying to every Slack note while being onboarded and learning the role. But then I realised I had my head stuck behind a screen a lot and was missing out on vital rapport-building time with my new team.
Taking a personal and genuine interest in each person is vital because whether you like it or not, physical and mental wellbeing is a large part of a boss’ job description. It also gives you insight into how someone works and why they may be at the top of their game (or not).
When I’m on my period I can’t add two and two together, let alone try and put a sales forecast together. What are other people’s trends? Understanding team dynamic informally is a helpful way to know how to manage their roles during projects or times of madness.
So, I’m doing less ‘work’ and have built in time for daily lunches, 3pm yoga, standups, ‘week in reviews’ and one-to-ones.
You will hear about the team you’re inheriting and it will lead to preconceived notions. Chuck it out! The joy of being fresh meat is that you are free of internal politics.
“The joy of being fresh meat is that you are free of internal politics.”
Build your judgement based on your experience. Set regular one-to-ones. This time builds trust individually. Hold each other accountable for the goals you set month to month. Notice how this space makes someone feel — it can be an opportunity for introverted team members to open up, especially if you ask good questions. Don’t be afraid to sit with silence.
The success metric for you is how actively you listen — you don’t need to react immediately.
(Top tip: I wasn’t very good at one-to-ones but used Lighthouse for a bit to get better.)
4) Integrate your culture
Yes, your new workplace already will have culture but you come with your own culture and set of values. Integrate it. That’s the entire point of an inclusive workspace.
What that looks like is dependent on you and the company. Be bullish on the things that are most important to you — they hired you for a reason.
I work from home one day a week, for example. There is a clear option for the rest of the team to follow suit. Also, I sit in the middle of the room with my computer screens fully visible. It’s a symbol of openness. Other examples include: work events that I organise don’t have alcohol; sustainability informs every bit of work I do; and I believe in strong maternity/paternity policies. What are yours?
5) Be consistent
Starting a new role is a bit like the new year — you go in with fancy new hair and the best intentions to make it the best one yet. If you try and do everything on day one, however, you will fall off the perfection wagon because of increased workload, team growth or burn out from trying to maintain this facade you have cultivated.
Be consistent. Set time in your calendar for regular meetings with your team and time for yourself to get ‘work’ done. Consistently ensure there are candid feedback loops. Consistently grow your culture — you’re adding to it not fitting in.
Above all else, be consistently yourself — the team will respect you for it.
Anisah Osman Britton is CTO at vintage clothes platform Vinokilo and founder of coding school for women 23 Code Street.