I am Leading a Team of Former Peers. How Do I Build Rapport?

I’ve accepted a new position with more responsibility at my legal practice, and now I’m leading a team of former peers. How do I build rapport with those I’m managing?

As a current employee, you have an advantage in that you already know the people you’ll be managing. On the other hand, as you imply, it could be a little tricky to transition from coworker to boss. The tone you set in the early days will determine how well you lead and communicate with your new team. These four tips can to help you build positive relationships with your staff.

  1. Get to know the individuals. Since you already work with them, you’re aware of their personality, habits, strengths and weaknesses. Now, as the new leader of this team, you need to get to know them in a different capacity.

    Schedule one-on-one meetings with each person and ask questions about their processes, challenges and ideas for improvement. Also think about the bigger picture and inquire about career goals and interests. For example, a top-notch paralegal may be ready to take on work usually done by an associate. The more you know about each person, the better you can assign tasks, offer advice and create action plans.
     
  2. Be balanced in your directions.As the team leader, you’re responsible for providing clear instructions for each new project or case. Outline the vision, define and delegate roles, and set priorities. Next, with everyone’s input and buy-in, establish a timeline with realistic milestones and deadlines.

    Then get out of the way.

    As a new supervisor, you may be anxious about making sure everything gets done well and on time. Be sure to check the tendency to micromanage, however. Too much oversight and direct involvement will diminish the rapport you have with your team. Good legal practice management calls for a delicate balance: Be involved and available for questions, yet trust them to get the work done on their own.
     
  3. Give and ask for feedback.No one should work in the dark. Good leaders offer their staff constructive criticism, both during and after a project. If you don’t let team members know what didn’t work, the same problems will persist — and you’ll have only yourself to blame.

    The communication should go both ways. Ask staff for feedback on your own performance and ways you could improve. Are you giving them enough guidance? Do they have enough resources to do their job? Are they stressed by the workload? Your team may not volunteer such information, so ask them directly. An important step toward becoming a better leader is being able to accept criticism and make any necessary adjustments.
     
  4. Acknowledge their accomplishments. A job well done shouldn’t go unnoticed. A big part of communicating and building rapport is appreciation. When someone does a great job or goes above and beyond, recognize that effort individually as well as in a group setting. Offer words of praise and a small but practical token of appreciation, such as a gift card or lunch out. A team that celebrates together does great things together.

    As with any new position, there’s an adjustment period. The transition to legal practice management may be challenging at first. But with time and persistence, you’ll develop into the confident leader your own boss knew you would one day become.