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Play 3 - Observe and learn before you cause unnecessary churn

When you start a new job/role, your first few months are going to be exciting and chaotic, and yet you are still going to be expected to bring yourself up to speed quickly and deliver results in short order - especially as you take on increasing responsibility in higher level roles. The best way to approach this situation is to be open-minded, patient, thoughtful, methodical, intentional, and develop a plan for yourself with the input and support of your supervisor, team, and peers.

If you are inheriting an existing team and/or existing project, observe and learn first, causing as little disruption as possible. Gather information, documentation, data, and any other artifacts that you can from existing team members, your supervisor, and the outgoing lead/supervisor (if possible) to develop a concrete mental model of the current state.

Ask the outgoing supervisor to share information with you about the folks on the team for a smoother transition. This includes federal employees, contractors, Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) rotaters, detailees, etc. Determine if there are any personnel actions currently underway that you will have to take over (e.g., merit promotions, performance improvement plans, etc.) If possible, and if each person agrees, schedule 1-on-1s and include yourself, the outgoing supervisor, and each employee to review things and formalize a hand-off.

Focus on facts, not assumptions, as you learn about each employee and how the team operates. This helps mitigate potential bias. It also allows you to begin developing your own unique relationships: your experience will be different than your predecessor’s, and that’s okay!

For example: you may hear from the outgoing supervisor that the team struggles to meet deadlines. Ask questions: what are team norms for deadlines? Is there a difference in completion rates for internally set deadlines versus those coming from senior leadership? Has the team met to discuss expectations? If there is no documentation or concrete expectations in place, how does the team view their own performance? This will begin to provide you with important context about your team.

Action Items

  • Connect with your supervisor to learn more about their expectations, your responsibilities, and any other things to be aware of on your team. TTS has a general List of Supervisor Job Duties, and each team will have unique/specific duties, too.

  • Schedule 1-on-1s with each team member

    • Learn what their skills and talents are, and if they’re able to leverage them in their work
    • Learn where they see themselves in the team and how much that aligns with their current role; pay close attention to situations where there isn’t strong alignment
    • Learn how much of their day-to-day is stable and predictable vs. chaotic or catches them off guard
  • If any performance review activities are currently underway (e.g., mid-year or annual reviews), participate as much as possible in a learning/observing capacity

    • The outgoing supervisor may be able to share documentation they have with you
  • Learn about any gaps in team resources and what recruiting and hiring actions will be necessary to fill the team, e.g.:

  • Connect with the outgoing supervisor, scrum master, product owner (if applicable), and other team members to learn about the current state of the project(s)/product, including current and upcoming epics and stories. See how and where processes are managed, document whatever you learn and compile a list of resources for yourself and your team(s).

    • What is currently underway?

    • What is top priority?

    • What is committed to?

    • Are there any upcoming deadlines?

    • What is at risk?

Play 3 Reflection Questions

  • As you watch the team in action, what cultural team norms have you observed? Which norms are explicit, and which are implicit? What are team norms that you want to foster?
  • Think about all the people who you will work with and who you want to learn from. What barriers, if any, do you anticipate? How might you approach these challenges?

Play 3 Case Studies

  • You’ve just transitioned into a new supervisory role and you’ve noticed that your current supervisor is extremely busy. Every time you schedule a meeting, your supervisor asks you to reschedule due to competing priorities. How do you ensure that you are building a relationship with your current supervisor?
  • Before you became a supervisor, you had lots of close personal relationships with some colleagues. Now that you are in leadership (and will be supervising some of those colleagues), what will you do to separate those personal relationships from professional ones? What will you change - do more of and less of - as you are communicating with those colleagues?
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