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How to manage former peers as a new manager

As daunting as it can seem, here’s how to manage former peers that can perpetuate a healthy team dynamic.

how to manage former peers

With your new promotion, congratulations are in order. But so is trepidation: You are now faced with the precarious challenge of figuring out how to manage former peers.

I can feel the heat rising from your situation in merely thinking about it. Perhaps some of your former peers were vying for the role that you now hold. You’re concerned that they’ll be ambivalent in their work β€“ or that folks might even try to undermine you right out of the gate. Gaining their support (let alone the rest of the team’s!) feels dubious.

What a precarious challenge, indeed!

Despite the delicate nature of your team dynamics, there is a way for you, as a new manager, to create an environment where your team feels encouraged and energized for the work ahead – rather than defeated or threatened.

Here are two key areas I recommend considering first for how to manage former peers…

You’ll be tempted to overlook the one-on-one meeting. Don’t.

Do you feel the spotlight on you? As new managers, our attention often becomes heightened in moments when we feel all eyes are on us. We watch our own words and actions more carefully when we know we’re being watched. As a result, our all-team meetings, staff meetings, and project meetings (i.e., meetings where the whole team is there) are the moments we tend to pay a lot of care and attention to and prepare extensively ahead of time.

However, in how to manage former peers, we often forget that the moments of 1:1 connection – our one-on-one meetings – are when the spotlight shines the brightest. Especially as a new manager, our former peer will be extra keen to understand how you will be approaching your new role. They’ll be looking to see your tone, your presumptions – and will be basing their own tone and assumptions off of yours. And they’ll be looking for this during the one-on-one meeting.

For example, if you’re smug, vague, and ill-prepared for your one-on-one meetings, you can only imagine how a former peer might feel discouraged and even bitter that you are in this role.

Conversely, if you come to the one-on-one meeting with humility, openness to wanting to support your former peer, and are prepared with specific questions, your former peer will likely leave that one-on-one meeting feeling content and excited about you being in this new role.

Specifically, when it comes to how to manage former peers, here’s how you might structure the agenda of your first one-on-one meeting with a former peer:

Intro

  • Share gratitude. Thank them for taking the time to meet with you.

Share your purpose + ask for help

  • You view your true purpose in your new role as to support them.
  • You will rely on them to help you make decisions that benefit the team – and you’ll need their expertise and input.

Ask for feedback + initial thoughts

  • What do you hope stays the same about the team, going forward?
  • What do you hope changes / gets better in the team, going forward?
  • Anything about the team’s future that feels worrisome or uncertain for you?
  • What is something we’ve stalled for too long as a team, and should take immediate action on?
  • What can I change and adjust about my working style to ensure we have a positive working relationship?
  • In previously working together, what’s one area of development and growth you think I might look to focus on, for myself?

Closing

  • Reiterate gratitude.
  • Share next steps and takeaways.
Ask these questions with our 1:1 Tool πŸ’­
Ensure your 1:1 conversations with former peers are effective.

In short, you want to lead with humility and indicate that you don’t think any more highly of yourself now that you’re in this role. This will help your former peers be excited to collaborate with you, rather than be wary of you and the new power dynamic.

You’ll be judged for what you do, not what you say.

Words can be empty. Action is where true leadership lies. This is of course applicable to all leaders – but when it comes to how to manage former peers, it’s particularly salient. Your team will be most sensitive to what action you’re following through on now, more than ever, as it’s the most reliable proxy they have for your true intentions as a leader.

This means holding one-on-one meetings regularly and consistently every week or every other week, rather than thinking the first one-on-one meeting will suffice to best support your team.

This means asking for feedback when a tough decision is made β€“ or even better, asking for feedback before the decision is made β€“ rather than assuming only asking for feedback during one-on-one meetings covers your bases.

This means knocking out small wins when you see them: Are folks burnt out on Zoom meetings? Cancel a few recurring meetings in the week, or record them so folks can watch at a later time and not feel required to show up. It’s the little things that add up over time that can make a real difference.

Not sure exactly what the best ways you can be taking action as a leader? Start by asking your team questions about their work preferences, to learn what action you might begin to take. Our Work Preferences Survey in our Icebreakers in KYT is excellent for understanding the preferences of how your team can best work together – and what initial action you can take.


With all of these recommendations for how to manage former peers, you’ll notice that none of them include any rousing inspirational speech, nor any bold action or triumphant project right off the bat. The truly resonant actions are small: (1) Focus on one-on-one meetings, and (2) Focus on your actions and follow-through as a leader.

With these fundamental practices, you’ll show how dedicated you are to uplifting your team – and the likelihood of potential drama of “oh we used to be peers” fading away will increase.

Focus on these fundamentals. And soon, you’ll feel firmer in your footing as a new manager of former peers.


πŸ’« Psst! Our software helps you nail the fundamentals of leadership as a new manager: We give you tools to run effective one-on-one meetings, build rapport, share progress – plus give you access to 100+ Leadership Guides and Workshop Live! sessions. Check out Know Your Team to access all the foundational tools and resources to level up as a new manager.

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Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Know Your Team. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.

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