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Assuming Leadership and Managing Distributed Teams

Unosquare Blog

Being promoted from within to assume a leadership role on a team where you were once a member has a set of inherent challenges — many of the issues that you would encounter come from assumptions and not taking the opportunity to set expectations. If it is an outside hire, they will likely be more descriptive in their approach to taking charge as they need to assess several team characteristics of which you are already aware. Because things like communication, ways of working, culture, etc., need to be understood, there will be a need to define them and therefore setting the expectations of the new leader. I suggest you set your expectations early and assume nothing.

Internal promotions also bring political considerations into play. These are not simple logistics and organization, but the perception of your colleagues that were former team members:

  • People may consider that your promotion wasn’t the best decision for the team
  • Some may have expected that they would be the one to be promoted
  • People may expect to take advantage of friendships and feel as though they can tacitly influence the team
  • An animosity that has developed and is affecting moral

Issues like these are understandable and should be expected. They are results of natural, human emotion and, if you take stock of your career history, you likely have experienced some, if not all, of these situations.

From my own experience as a software professional with globally distributed teams, the key to a successful transition among former team members is honesty. Two, vital, approaches go together to lead this change:

  • Be completely candid with your team
  • Be brutally honest with yourself

Set the tone for your new relationship with your team through candid team communication. I recommend one-on-one meetings with each team member of your distributed team (sometimes face-to-face isn’t logistically possible or economical). Be clear that, despite anyone’s perception of your new role, you are setting out to do the best by the team and the company. Make sure they sense your eagerness to take on new challenges as a team. You are not there to “go it alone.” The success that you expect is owned by the team and not the individual, and that includes yourself.

Being honest with yourself is simply being self-aware. Yes, you were promoted for a reason, and you need to own it and understand that you deserve to be in your position. Now, you need to look inward and realize that you now have a greater responsibility than to just yourself. Understanding that responsibility should affect your actions and decision making to help improve the team and your career. Be aware that you are now a leader and your decisions will have a wider impact.

The new responsibility can increase your stress and can feel like a lot of pressure, but you shouldn’t be fearful. If you are guided by the principle that you are going to do the best for your team, then go for it. But, right or wrong, your relationship with your team is going to be affected. Don’t expect to have the same conversations that you have always had. You’ll notice a change in communication and tone in conversation almost immediately after taking the job. You need to accept these changes and move forward. There is no going back. Please consider these social changes when deciding if a leadership role in managing a distributed team with your peers is right for you.

Above all, the most important approach you must take to ensure a collaborative environment is to listen. Listen to your team in earnest. It is an incredibly important part of your new job. If they get the sense that you are truly listening, you are going a long way to building up trust.

I hope that my perspectives are of use to you, especially if you are gearing up for, or are in the middle of, a transition like the one I am describing. There are a lot of moving parts when assuming a leadership role in any situation, but I am convinced that honesty should guide you. Let me know what you think!


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