So Your New Team Had a Horrible Boss

The stories I have heard about bad bosses make me cringe.  The creativity to work around incompetence, the resilience to having to duck and cover because of a bully-boss and the sheer determination employees show to get the work done in spite of horrible working conditions is amazing.  Eventually companies catch a clue and remove a bad boss (or they don’t and promote him/her – but that is a different problem).  Whatever the case, you are now the new boss.  Replacing abusive shoes comes with its own set of challenges.  Approach it incorrectly and the team will never let you in.  Do it right and you will have comrades for life.

Here are a few things to consider:


The team is dysfunctional. Working for a bad boss is emotionally and psychologically stressful.  People learn to compensate any way they can.  What looks to you like incompetence, disrespect or even insubordination might be adaptive self preservation.


Ask a lot of questions. Even if HR warned you about how bad things were, things are always very different on the inside then they look from the outside.  Let the team tell you what isn’t working.  The venting will be good for them and learning that you listen is a great way for them to learn to trust you.


Be open about what you’ve heard. The team knows the rest of the company thinks they’re crazy.  They know other departments avoid having to work with them because their past boss was impossible.  Don’t pretend you don’t know about the rumors and the looks of pity.  Have a conversation about what you know and engage the team in a discussion about how to change it.


Learn the team lingo. Teams with abusive “leaders” start to communicate in code to avoid confrontation and warn each other about explosive situations.  Don’t come in and try to change it.  Learn what works for them.  Remember, you are the new kid on the block.


Be really transparent. Your new team is going to be quick to judge you.  Don’t give them a chance to guess about why you are doing something.  It doesn’t have to quack for them to think it’s a duck.  It only has to have feathers.  


Rebuild Trust. When employees work under a bad boss they often learn to be manipulative to get what they need. This behavior creates distrust between team members as well as management.  Get them talking together about how they coped with the situation (venting) and how they would like the team to work going forward (solving).  Both pieces are important.


Move on. When people experience very difficult situations it is easy to get stuck in that bad place. Help your new team see how things are different and better now. Encourage them to enjoy the change and to develop their success in the healthy environment you are creating together.


It is important to remember that the individuals on your new team, no matter how broken it is, know more about what needs to be done and how to get it done than you do.  It is your job to help them put the pieces of the team back together. The best insights for how to do that while continuing to get the work done are going to come from them.

As always, I wish you the MOST from your potential!

Doc Robyn

Dr. Robyn Odegaard (aka “Doc Robyn”) is internationally known conflict resolution expert, motivational speaker and executive wordsmith.  As CEO of Champion Performance Development, she works with executives, professionals, athletes, and coaches to help them achieve excellence in all aspects of life through active leadership, powerful teamwork, effective communication, Productive Conflict™ and professional disagreement skills.  She is the founder of the Stop The Drama! Campaign and author of the books Stop The Drama! The Ultimate Guide to Female Teams and The Ultimate Guide to Handling Every Disagreement Every Time.  To work with her one-on-one, have her present to your team, request a custom workshop or invite her to speak at your event, email her at or call 302-307-3091.

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