3 Types of Essential Questions To Integrate New Leadership
Asking and answering key questions facilitates the integration of a new leader with their team and others in an organization. The dialogue that a new leader engages in and encourages early in their tenure provides a foundation for future flourishing.
During the first weeks and months of a new leader, building trust is a key factor for overall engagement. People throughout the organization are watching for competency, integrity, and compassion. Will working with this new leader bring out the best in others? Every small and large conversation will either make a deposit in the trust bank or a withdrawal. It is essential for a new leader to have as many trust deposits as possible! Asking questions and listening throughout the organization sets up a new leader for success.
- An organization needs to go beyond onboarding a new leader to integrating them into the culture.
- Other leaders help the integration process by asking vision and operational questions of the new leader and engaging in cross-team dialogue.
- Staff under a new leader might voice questions regarding changes that may come into the team. They may also have unvoiced concerns that need to be addressed for team flourishing.
- The new leader will have questions for their team and cross-organizational questions. These Interactions will help them understand culture and styles.
New Leadership: From Onboarding to Integration
Your hiring process was successful and now you have a new leader in your organization. Whether this person is the CEO, reporting to the board, or a team leader within the organization, a successful onboarding process involves strong communication and dialogue throughout the team. There are several categories of questions that are important as you integrate a new leader into your organization:
- Existing leaders will have questions for the new leader. These can be from peer-level leaders or those leaders above or below the new leader.
- People who work under a new leader will have questions, including perhaps unvoiced questions regarding how their own personal interests continue to align with the organization.
- The new leader will have questions for all levels of the organization—those above him, peers, and staff he is leading.
Obviously, during the hiring process, there were many questions asked and answered in interviews. Now that the new leader has started in their role, the questions go from theoretical to actual. A flourishing workplace culture will encourage healthy questions and dialogue to bond new teams as they move forward. And even if only one person on a team has changed, the team is new and needs to do the work of integrating and re-shaping to steward the abilities of all on the team.
When human resources leaders were asked about onboarding practices fewer than a third said they actively helped executives adapt to the cultural and political climate, according to a Harvard Business Review article, “Onboarding Isn’t Enough” by Mark Byford.
Rather than “onboarding” which implies just getting the person on deck, Mark Byford says, “Integration is a more aspirational goal—doing what it takes to make the new person a fully functioning member of the team as quickly and smoothly as possible.”
The onboarding article cites a survey of more than 500 new leaders at the vice president level and above that pointed to issues in successfully integrating new hires into the corporate culture. Almost 70 percent of respondents pointed to a lack of understanding about norms and practices for failure in their new roles. Poor cultural fit was close behind. When asked what would reduce failure rates, they emphasized constructive feedback, help with navigating internal networks and gaining insight into organizational and team dynamics.
A transition to new leadership is an excellent time to assess a benchmark of the health of the organizational culture, to listen to feedback, and learn about potential issues. The BCWI Employee Engagement Survey helps a new leader understand their team, using professionally developed questions. The survey results provide actionable results based on BCWI’s years of experience.
Ryan Stanton, CEO of Compass, leads an organization that quickly grew from two to 40 employees, serving families in Nebraska. He shared on a recent episode of The Flourishing Culture Podcast how pulling the staff together for listening and information sharing helped them integrate their new staff into the core values of the organization:
We realized our core values were in a handbook that we went through at our orientation time, but that’s as far as we went. We really wanted our core values to be more than aspirational. We started having an all-staff quarterly gathering—a state of the organization meeting. We would highlight accomplishments as a team for the last 90 days and then what we were prioritizing for the next 90 days. We also did a one-on-one quarterly meeting with all of our direct reports to include goals and core values, and how those were part of their specific job.
In addition to intentionality around core values and staff goals, Ryan realized that they needed a baseline to measure the health and culture at Compass. They used the BCWI Employee Engagement Survey to understand their growing team. Ryan shares, “After our first survey and our time debriefing with Cary Humphries (BCWI Consulting Director), I knew that was exactly what we needed.”
Questions from Other Leaders
Helpful questions that create interaction to integrate a new leader can range from vision-related questions to operational queries. As existing leaders in an organization engage with a new leader, they invite honesty and effectiveness and provide practical learning opportunities.
1. Vision questions
- What aspect of the organizational vision resonate most strongly with you? This question was probably part of the interview process, but now as the new leader is being integrated into the organization, affirming the strength of mission understanding will be a vehicle for building trust and working well with others in the organization. Honestly exploring mission-fit will highlight the strengths that the new leader brings to the organization.
- What aspect of the organizational vision seems unclear or most difficult for you to grasp? This question might feel difficult to voice; however, a healthy workplace allows space for growth and learning. Whether the question is asked or not, there will certainly be areas of the organizational mission that are either unclear or less naturally aligned with the new leader. Having open conversations about areas in which the new leader needs to grow into the vision will help foster such growth. Otherwise, over time, gaps and mismatches might develop, because of unstated misunderstanding.
2. Operational questions
- What are your preferences for communication formats and frequency? While a healthy organization will already have some reporting mechanisms in place, peer leaders can help a new leader integrate necessary information by regularly sharing information sources and insights. A recent BCWI blog post addresses healthy communication with principles that are a great starting place for a new leader.
- What do you need from me or my team to help you be successful in your goals? This question, coming from a peer leader, is supportive and empowering of great cross-team interaction. The success of the new leader’s team is not solely up to them. A healthy organization works to build cross-team collaboration and break down silos—asking how one team can help a newly formed team be successful is encouraging.
Questions from People Who Report to a New Leader
Everyone naturally considers their own self-interest in a season of change: What’s in it for me? How will my life change because of this leader? This may be especially acute if there are many changes occurring simultaneously in an organization, perhaps during a season of growth when a number of new staff and leaders have been added.
Pulling a team together for regular sharing of goals and values offers the opportunity for staff to raise questions they may have for their leader. However, depending on the openness of the culture, such questions might be better in a smaller setting, even one-on-one, as team members may not feel open to sharing in a larger setting.
Here are some questions that may be voiced by staff under a new leader. Or the questions may be in their minds, even if they don’t share them. If a new leader is not hearing these types of questions from their team, they may want to address the issues anyway, to get to the concerns of those who may stay silent.
- How will our team change? Staff who have been unhappy about some aspect of the previous organization might have new optimism with a new leader, hoping that positive change is coming. However, others might be worried about their own position on the team: Will my job be secure? Will my responsibilities change? Will the new leader like me and will I like them? Will I be able to trust this new leader and follow their leadership? Often unvoiced questions are at the heart of this thinking.
- What is the new leader’s management style and how will it impact my job? An employee may wonder how empowered they will be to do their job and have space to grow under a new leader. Will the team be micro-managed, or will the new leader give us clear boundaries within which the team is free to work?
- Does this new leader help me recommit to the vision of the organization or am I feeling called elsewhere? Some turnover may naturally occur during a period of new leadership. As a team is re-forming under new leadership, some staff members may take the initiative to move on to other opportunities. While this turnover can result in some temporary gaps on a team, it can be healthy for those who cannot recommit to the vision of the organization to move on.
Questions the New Leader Needs to Ask
With Their Staff Team
From the beginning of their tenure, a new leader needs to establish good communication practices with their staff team. This foundation of communication will help build trust within the team. Sometimes there is a hesitancy to share too much information with staff, an issue that Ezra Benjamin, the vice president of global ministry affairs for Jewish Voice Ministries addressed in a recent episode of The Flourishing Culture podcast on building trust:
As we went through our BCWI survey results with Cary, from BCWI, we asked, “Do we really need to say everything to our staff? Do we owe it to every employee in the ministry to know everything?”
And he said, “Well, of course not. But people are going to talk at the water coolers, and they’re going to talk about what’s happening in the organization that’s of import. The question is, Do you want to be a part of those conversations, or do you want to be absent from them? Because if you choose to be absent because people don’t ‘need to know,’ the narrative is going to spin with or without you present. But if you choose to insert what you can tell people and communicate that as widely and as real-time and as straight talk as you can, you’re going to have more of an opportunity to inform those dialogs and even to shape the narratives with what’s really true.”
- What do you need to know from me about the organization to help you be successful in your job? A new leader who starts with this question to their staff team will have a foundation of openness and trust from which to lead. They will benefit from the inspirational leadership that Ezra and Cary were pointing to in the BWCI Employee Engagement survey
- Who is on my team, in terms of personalities and strengths? As noted previously, even if just one team member changes, there is a re-forming of the team dynamic. When a new leader starts with a team, she may want to invest in team building that includes an understanding of personalities and strengths within the team. This can be an assessment such as CliftonStrengths (previously called StrengthsFinder), Enneagram, or other tools to build understanding among team members and help point the team towards ways to maximize their effectiveness. Learn more about the Enneagram in The Flourishing Culture podcast with Alice Fryling, author of Mirror for the Soul: A Christian Guide to the Enneagram.
With Leadership Peers and Their Boss
To move from onboarding to integration, a new leader needs to understand the nuances of an organization, including informal networks and actors who may not be obvious from the official organization chart. The following questions will help them develop a deeper understanding of how teams interact:
- Who are the influencers or gatekeepers that I need to listen to and build relationships with? This question gets at the reality that there are key people who can help a new leader understand the history of an organization and its current reality—and those people may not be obvious based on titles or positions.
- How do our teams interact, and how can we maximize our strengths? This question will help a new leader get beyond silos and set the stage for positive interaction between different teams. Often this question is phrased in the negative sense: “Where are disconnects or silos evident between our teams?” By taking a positive stance, the new leader and their peer can set the stage to move toward positive interactions and capitalizing on strengths.
Taking the time and effort to ask questions and listen to input is a key factor in building trust with a new leader, and success in shaping a new team. Being willing to ask questions also sets a tone for an organization. Here’s what John Hegel III, a longtime Silicon Valley consultant says in “Good Leadership is About Asking Good Questions” (Harvard Business Review):
By asking questions as a leader, you also communicate that questioning is important. You’ll inspire people to identify new opportunities and to ask for help when they need it. These behaviors lead to a culture of learning, which is critical since the institutions that will thrive in the future are those that encourage everyone to learn faster and more rapidly expand the value that they deliver to their stakeholders.
The questions a new leader fields and asks are not just about understanding the past and present of an organization, but they set a trajectory into future learning together. This is essential because an organization does not bring on a new leader just to survive, but to thrive.
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