How to build trust with an inherited team

April 19, 2022

Moving into a new company or new role with an established team can be a challenge. Amplify that challenge if you’re taking over from a popular predecessor.

How do you start building trust and managing the star performer(s)?

You’re inheriting a team, potentially hand picked and who’ve long since been through the forming, storming, norming, performing phases.

What’s more, those handover documents might tell you the correct buttons to press, but are always void of what really matters, the personal stories, the personal interactions and nuances. 

It Gets Worse when you discover an annoying Mister Know-It-All, who just happens to be the key talent, central to the project but far from a team player.

Been here for 5+ years, knows the system A to Z and his body language (let’s face it, it’s normally a he) lets you know it. 

He has a following and is clearly an obstacle for you to achieve an effective team. 

In these situations there is a tendency to head off in one of two directions;

1. Assert your authority, unleash your fangs and try to impose yourself quickly with swift and potentially brutal changes; 

2. Artificially engage in early bonhomie, jaunty banter and work on building trust and common purpose by being their pal.

From our experience, whilst both can clearly work they’re rarely recipes in isolation for building team productivity and ultimately team satisfaction.

In the short term you probably need to roll with it, particularly if key individuals are performing, even if the whole team and other direct reports are not.  

And whilst the star performer might be creating an unpleasant atmosphere and enjoys pointing fingers, culture is often driven from the top and the toxicity might be about past management styles rather than an inability to bring change with new and creative thinking. 

A few important items from our collective experience of similar; 

Empty Your Cup and Re-Learn How To Lead

There may be fault on your side.
What worked before might not work here and to begin with, even if you arrive with a reputation you don’t have to know everything.

First steps towards gaining your subordinate’s respect should be simple, stay humble. 

Let them know you are approachable, open to conversations and suggestions particularly during these early days.

Be open about your own strengths and weaknesses. Articulate your personal history, your personal stories.

Let them be aware if/where you have limited knowledge and know that you’re keen as mustard to learn from their expertise.

The superstar might just need his approach realigning, maybe he needs your team management skills to help give him more support.  Leverage on his experience and connections, without becoming as reliant as others might have been.

Don’t Dismiss What They’ve Historically Achieved : Avoid the Brian Clough Scenario

They are probably feeling a lot of what you are feeling … anxiety, uncertainty and potentially insecurity. These are important items and issues to recognise because people don’t like change.

Some of them have been in the company for a while and will have a natural tendency to protect what the company has achieved, even if you believe they have under performed or failed to realise their full potential. 

Brian Clough was a famous UK manager in the 1970’s. He was recruited by the most successful club at the time (Leeds United) to take over from a very famous predecessor (Don Revie). Clough decided on the first morning to assert his authority and show his fangs. He told the players to throw their medals in the bin because everything they had won so far had been achieved by cheating.

The star performers didn’t take kindly to these suggested steps.

Brian Clough, despite his expensive arrival and previous success, was removed from his post by play power after 44 days.

One on One : Communication is Key

Have an open discussion at the start, try to find some common interests and explain your strategic visions and the challenge ahead. Get some early buy-in.

But an essential element of any successful team is building close working relationships based on getting to know each other and communicating with individuals openly and regularly.

This bedding in process should be powered by communication, one to one meetings and consistency of your wider message. You can’t create an effective, cohesive group without it.

These need to be instituted asap and with all team members. Get to know them as people, their strengths and weaknesses, ambitions and concerns.

These sessions are informal and often more about the personal, non work issues that play such a key role in binding together teams and people.

What they’ve done during the weekend, hobbies, football teams, families, getting a temperature check on how they’re doing with their work.

Cats need autonomy. So do techies

Cats are independent, they mind their own business, they seek attention only when needed and if you bug them during their time, you get scratches and bites.

Remind you of leading tech teams? Tech leadership means dealing with group members who are often happiest when given the freedom to self-organise. For one thing, writing codes require a lot of mental focus. Any distraction or discomfort can derail them from their focus.

The leadership style of some is akin to the helicopter parent as they micromanage their teams.

That’s not healthy for you, let alone your team and particularly if they’re bringing the expertise you can’t. You need to give them space to flourish, particularly as a recent arrival needing time to shape the workplace environment.

Monitor what they need to do and what needs to get done. Understand their impediments and help them achieve their optimal work experience become a servant leader.

Give Them The Limelight

Give them the limelight. Let them shine!

If there’s one strategy for getting your team’s trust is putting them in places where they will grow and be recognised, not only by you but by the top management and clients. 

This is a great way to build trust and showcase your leadership skills.

From your one on ones, you can quickly understand their strengths.

Give them mini projects within the team that will enhance their profile, and build their skills. 

Spot the high flyers and encourage them to enroll on learning courses and/or give them appropriate platforms during milestone meetings and presentations to show off their expertise.

Take time to understand the dynamics, release any latent potential and try to drive the desired results you want.

If change doesn’t come, the star performer doesn’t become the team player, or your approach at the personal level hits a dead end … might be time to assert your authority and show your fangs.


CTO Academy has been Ranked #2 Best CTO Course in the World. We provide online management skills training, mentoring and career development advice for tech leaders and managers around the world. Membership starts from just $49 per month, more details available here.

“The skill set CTOs and IT Managers now require are a world away from what was needed in the past. I find the CTO Academy training modules to be highly valuable resources, providing broad-based business skills and awareness essential for success in the modern workplace.” – Eli Oshorov, Sydney

Download Our Free eBook!

90 Things You Need To Know To Become an Effective CTO

CTO Academy Ebook - CTO Academy

Latest posts

CTO bonus structure overview with influencing factors - featured image

CTO Bonus Structure Overview w/ Influencing Factors

In this article, we explained a typical CTO bonus structure and types in different company sizes with the detailed overview of influencing factors.
Guide to setting up and running productive meetings - featured image

How to Set Up and Run a Productive Meeting

Meetings can easily become an onerous element of any leader. When they're scheduled back-to-back, they a) consume more time than you thought they would and […]
Quick Guide to Understanding External Driving Factors of Technology Strategy - featured image

Quick Guide to Understanding External Driving Factors of Technology Strategy

This guide explains the main external factors that could influence technology strategy - from start-ups to large enterprises. As you will soon learn, your technology […]

Transform Your Career & Income

Our mission is simple.
To arm you with the leadership skills required to achieve the career and lifestyle you want.
Save Your Cart
Share Your Cart