Dear Bob ...
I've just started as a manager in a new company. I have a team of eight reporting to me, and I have a distinct sense of being the outsider -- which, of course, I am, but this feels different. No matter what the topic, I see people exchanging meaningful glances, nudging each other, and otherwise acting as though they're party to an inside joke.
And nobody is telling me the punchline.
How do I break into a group like this? Any suggestions?
Dear Outsider ...
Yes: Don't try.
As a business leader, you don't need to be part of the group you manage. Eventually you'll need to build rapport. Under the circumstances, wanting to be part of it will prevent you from accomplishing the more important task, which is to establish yourself as the group's leader.
A key indicator of who is leading whom is who looks to whom for approval. The more you want to fit in, the more you're looking to team members for approval, and the more you do that, the more opportunities there are for them to lead you and the fewer you have to lead them.
So be aloof -- not so much that you're unapproachable on a professional level, but enough that you don't appear to have any interest in participating with the team on a social level. And when you see nonverbal cues being exchanged, don't hesitate to ask what information was just exchanged: "Betty? Jim? Is there something I need to know?"
Also: Make sure to establish regular one-on-one meetings with each team member. It's in these meetings that you and each team member can start to become persons to each other. As that happens, you'll gradually integrate into the team.
This is important in the long run, because you need to crack, and then change the small-town culture -- before, that is, you bring peers into the team who won't have the natural advantage of being the team's manager.
This story, "Management is not a popularity contest," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.