Devising a strategic plan for building workplace relationships; a guide for new leaders

There are many challenges to overcome when new to leadership, the most complex are usually related to leading and managing others and many leaders I work with often fail to priorities this aspect of their role at the earlier stages of their appointment  leading to a multitude of issues later.

Building and managing relationships as a new leader should be strategically planned at the outset and factors that will inform this plan will be relating to

1.        The Leader:

a.       What (if any) experience has the leader of leading and managing others?  For new leaders with little to no experience it is crucial that a development plan is devised and implemented as soon as possible to ensure the leader is equipped and competent in dealing with people issues such as resistance to change, conflict and the ability to have feedback conversations. Those with some experience will have the benefit of exploring what has and has not worked for them in the past as a people leader and they can begin to devise a plan to “bridge the developmental gap”

b.       What formal/informal development has the leader already engaged in relating to the leadership and management of others?   Some leaders may have a formal or informal education relating to leading and managing others but may need support around practically applying what they have learned. For others their competence may be technical/clinical and they will need (at the least at the outset) the opportunity to engage in a foundational leadership development programme and/or mentoring or coaching with a professional development plan for future leadership development.

c.       What are the gaps in their development?; a generic leadership programme will provide the foundations, however there may be areas that require a more personal journey which coaching may help with.

d.       Are there opportunities for engaging with a mentor or a coach to begin a journey of development in this area?  Many organisations run mentoring programmes, however I regularly encounter leaders who have informally sought mentoring from more experienced colleagues in their organisation. Internal coaching solutions are also increasingly available and successful, however some leaders may prefer to get more of a wider perspective and engage with external coaching professionals.

 2.       The team(s) the leader will have responsibility for is also a key consideration :

a.       Size and makeup of the team (will the team be unidisciplinary or multidisciplinary?). Leaders who lead professionals from the same discipline as themselves often find can hit the ground running initially  without the requirement to understand the core business. Whereas leaders who are not technical/clinical experts (and maybe came from a unidisciplinary team) and are reliant on getting a sense of the workings of the team from multiple professions may find getting to know the varying professionals and disciplines on the team takes up more of their time initially. They may also find that a coaching style of leading rather than a directive style of leading may be more beneficial for themselves and those they lead in such circumstances.

b.       What is the structure of team, i.e. is it a flat structure or are there layers of middle/front line managers? Lack of understanding on behalf of new leaders around the structure of teams particularly where there are layers of management can often be a cause of conflict. The leader (in their enthusiasm to show leadership) if not aware of the reporting structures can often inadvertently bypass decisions that need to be made closer to the line resulting in the undermining of managers at different levels of the organisation. This can damage relationships with managers who will be key to the success of the service going forward.

c.        Is their a culture of feedback in this team? Many new leaders who have not done their research into this area can trigger issues unknowingly; this can happen when a new leader trained in best practice people management hits the ground running to hold regular feedback meetings with teams who have not had this practice in the past. Without contextualizing why these meetings will be held, their benefits or how employees can prepare can cause resistance and conflict. The other scenario is where the team were accustomed to having regular meetings with their leader and the new leader does not follow through with this practice. This can be a missed opportunity for the leader to get to know their individual team members and vice versa. If the meetings were a feature in the past and not reinstated by the new leader other issues such as absenteeism, underperformance, etc. can slowly arise.

d.        Are regular departmental meetings the norm? Best practice would be to hold a full team or depending on the size of the team, a series of team meetings at the outset by the new leader to introduce themselves, lay out their vision etc. If departmental meetings were a regular occurrence in the past this should be continued ; this is key to instilling open communication and exploring opportunities for quality improvement as a team and engaging and motivating team members.

The above provides a framework for new leaders to begin laying the foundation for creating positive workplace relationships. Having a well thought out development plan as a leader is essential to developing a reputation as a competent people leader as well as creating environments for employees to do their best work and enjoy positive workplace relationships at all levels. This is the work that we are experienced with and enjoy doing at Insightful Works. To get an insight into this work; join us on March 31st at 7pm for our free webinar on "How to manage conflict without damaging relationships :