4.5 min read

In my new role, I’m managing people who used to be my peers. What should I do to ease this transition?

This transition can be awkward, but it doesn’t have to be painful.

Acknowledge the shift.

In your first check-in with a new direct report, you might say, “I want to acknowledge that we’ll be relating differently than we did as peers. I’m looking forward to supporting you in new ways. I’ve done some thinking and also want to hear from you: what does support from your manager look like?” Then, co-define success in your working relationship. You can also ask, “What are you most excited about in our new working relationship and what are you nervous about?” Share your thoughts, too.

Get to know each other with a new lens.

Assume there’s stuff about each other that you don’t already know, even if (especially!) they were your main collaborator or go-to work friend. Take time to understand each other’s roles and invest in relationship-building. Ask what they like/dislike about the work and find out where they imagine themselves in a couple years.

Examine choice points.

One of the places bias can creep in is around your personal relationships with people you manage. So, examine your choice points. Which members of your team do you know better or interact with more? Who do you see outside of work or connect with on social media? Are you more (or less) likely to give feedback to people you know well—or offer leeway when you know more about challenges in their home/personal life? What about the staff you don’t know as well? Your relationships don’t need to look the same across the board, but you should: 1) spot for impacts if there are major differences (e.g., you are close personal friends with one staff member and have a strictly professional relationship with another); 2) set or redraw boundaries with staff that you have personal relationships with; and 3) invest in making genuine connections with all members of your team (even if they don’t go beyond the workplace).

If you’re feeling anxious, consider the root.

Is there real resistance coming from staff? Are you feeling some (totally normal) imposter syndrome? Either way, don’t project your anxieties onto staff. One manager we know felt certain a close colleague would resent the new dynamic, especially because they took over during a performance improvement plan—something they didn’t know about when they were peers. After a check-in to acknowledge the shift and discuss their new relationship, the staff member expressed earnest desire for candid feedback and mentorship from their new manager. The trust they had as peers created a stronger foundation for the new relationship—and an a-ha moment for the manager who realized they needed to let go of the story they had in their head (“this is going to be tough”) and trust the staff member (and themselves) more.

There’s been so much change and upheaval lately and everyone is exhausted. As the new manager, what’s the most important thing I can do for and with my team when things have been chaotic and uncertain?

Acknowledge uncertainty.

Use team meetings and check-ins to talk about change and uncertainty. Make space for people to say how they’re experiencing things. Where you have info to share about organizational changes, give as much context as possible and share the why. Let your team know when you think things might stabilize and involve staff in scenario planning to mitigate feelings of helplessness.

Hold steady.

Amidst change/uncertainty, invest in consistency and stability where you can. Maintain the traditions that matter most to your team, whether it’s an annual event that brings members together or Friday get-togethers as a team. Hold regular check-ins (even if you decide to shorten them). Lift up the areas where you all have a good handle on things, name bright spots, and celebrate wins. This can help balance areas where they’re pushing big rocks up a hill.

Reground and reprioritize.

In times of crisis or uncertainty, having something to work toward helps us stay focused and aligned in ways that can be empowering. So, don’t shy away from goal-setting, asks, or assignments. Guide your team to reconnect with a sense of purpose and transform those intentions into concrete plans. When setting goals in chaos, it helps to choose a North Star to orient around and leave lots of room in the suitcase.

Protect space for personal connection.

Find ways to celebrate wins and have fun as a team. Acknowledge bright spots and make room for people to share (as much or as little as they want) when things feel hard.

What tips do you have for building a new staff-manager relationship remotely?

While remote/hybrid work is certainly different, don’t overthink it. First, ask yourself: What would I do if we were in-person? How can we do it virtually? If you would go for coffee or lunch, schedule a virtual coffee/lunch one-on-one and send your staff member a gift card for takeout or groceries. If you would chat in the break room about life and work, start a #watercooler channel on Slack and set the tone with updates, funnies, and good news. If you would invite staff to pop into your office with questions, schedule Zoom office hours or set your status to “available” on Slack or Gchat when your door is open. Ask them about their communication preferences and share yours.

When it comes to managing the work, it might be harder to observe staff in action or train someone. So, set aside time each week to plan how you’ll stay engaged. Ask staff to share more slices of early work, and use check-ins to ask probing questions that give you a real picture of the work. Schedule Zoom coworking sessions for connection and collaboration, and hop on video for “I do/we do” moments to model a new skill.

If managing remotely is new to you, read more tips on switching to remote management.

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