Inheriting a new team – how to decide which team members to keep?

When you get made up to partner, either through a promotion or a lateral move, it is not uncommon to inherit a new team, or a dysfunctional group of people who happen – more because of a HR structure chart – to belong to the same team. Your long term success as partner is driven by how well you can kick this team into shape.

The question is, how do you go about doing this?

This blog post explores the problem.

What is the actual problem here?

The way that your contribution as a equity or salaried partner is rewarded varies massively across firms. What is common to every partner is, that if you are going to build up a sustainable client portfolio, you need to have a strong team to delegate the work down to. How do I put this diplomatically? The professions often attract highly intelligent people who are very difficult to lead or manage. The challenge, therefore, is to take an eclectic mix of people, who may have other ideas, and gel them into a high performing team.

What can complicate the problem?

If you are moving into a new firm you probably have an easier position than someone who knows their team members well. It is easier because you don’t have years of relationships or history to prejudice your thinking and decisions going forward. However, if you are new the team, it can be difficult to find people’s skeletons in the closet. Or as some new partners have found out, they are not wanted by a few team members as they feel that their route to the top has now been blocked.

If you have been promoted to partner from your team this can make life very awkward for a while. Metaphorically you have now moved from one club into a new club. Suddenly you are no longer one of us, you are “the boss”. Not every one of your new team will be happy for you. In fact, be prepared for some of your team to leave as they don’t agree with you being made partner.

What to do

1. Get independent advice

If you are in a large firm then you probably have the luxury of some internal HR support to help you think through your options and what you need to do. If you are at a small firm and don’t have this level of support, OR you want to have someone external who can be truly objective, then you will need to engage the support of an external expert. Some of our clients have found this invaluable as the external support is completely on your side, unlike an internal person they don’t need to play office politics. Nor are they going to assess your performance or take a view on your decisions which could hamper your performance assessments at a later date.

2. Consider what you need from your team in the future

The team you inherit will have been built with a previous strategy in mind. Or if that wasn’t the case, will have grown with the previous team leaders client requirements. Regardless of the potential strength of your team, it is time to take a fresh look at what you actually need from your team to help you achieve your strategy for the department. Whilst you are considering what you need, don’t forget to retain within the team what is important from the past.

3. Assess each individual

Every team is made up of a collection of individuals. Your aim is to build a team which becomes greater than the sum of its parts. But, you need to get the right parts from the start!

As you consider each individual think about the following questions?

  • What are their strengths (experience, skills, attitudes, preferences) and how important to us is this going forward?
  • To what level are they performing now? Where do they need to be performing?
  • How adaptable are they or will they be with the change which is coming?
  • Are they a supporter, neutral or critic? What needs to happen to move them away from being a critic?

Remember not to let emotion and sentimentality, influence the tough decisions that you need to make. When we have helped our clients do this exercise they have found using psychometric assessments incredibly useful.

4. Expand the individual psychometric assessments into team based assessments

As I mentioned before a great team becomes greater than the some of its parts. When you are considering your new team you need to make sure that you have both the skills you require in the team, but also the diversity of thinking styles and working preferences. This diversity gives your team the robustness and resilience it will require to be truly effective. Depending on the team assessment tool that you use – we use PROPHET with our clients – it may be able to help you simulate the impact of moving team members in and out. This is a very powerful analysis, particularly when you are considering adding new team members in.

Using a matrix scoring system

HR professionals, particularly when advising on a redundancy situation, are very keen on using a matrix scoring system to decide fairly and objectively who to keep and who to go. To replicate this tool for you, considering what are the competencies or factors which you need in your team going forward. Then rate your team members against these factors. Is there anyone who is standing out as a weak link? Using a scoring system helps you considering your future team building and individual development plans.

In summary

Inheriting a new team is a time for reflection, new beginnings and objective decision making. Remember to not rush in where fools fear to tread. Take the time to truly understand what you have inherited, but also consider what you need to keep, ditch and add to achieve your vision for the team.

Scroll to Top