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Line management for newbies - practitioner's perspective

· 12 min read
Wojciech Gruszczyk
Chief Blog Officer

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash


Managing people is a tough thing. Especially, if you are new to it, see yourself as an introvert or are an engineer who was promoted to a managerial position. In this post, I'm sharing my experiences and tips on how to manage people effectively and have a bit of fun while doing it.


So you are a manager now! Huh! What at a glance can be seen as a promotion may mean a lot of stress and headaches. In this article, I'm sharing my best practices that helped me over the past years and - I hope - can also help you. Never mind if you are a seasoned manager or a newbie; stay with me to extend or sharpen your toolbox.


If I could give you but one advice - avoid being a boss. Besides rare situations when decisions must be made fast and explanations must wait, keeping people informed is the best way to support your choices. When people will understand your standpoint and will witness you acting with proper engagement and power, they will follow you. If you are interested in agile leadership, I strongly recommend the book Management 3.01 by Jurgen Appelo.

Handover from the previous manager

Depending on the size of your organization I would expect one of the scenarios to materialize:

  1. Corporate handover

In this case, you will probably be granted access to a system like SuccessFactors where, in theory, you can find all the necessary information about your new proteges. In practice - good luck with that! The system is usually a mess, and you will have to rely on your predecessor's goodwill to share helpful insights. People usually are not keen to share their thoughts and remarks on corporate tools and for that reason, I wouldn't expect to find more than the mandatory quarterly, half-yearly, or yearly performance reviews.

If the previous manager is still in the company, you can ask for a meeting to discuss the team, its members, and the current situation. If not, you can try to reach out to the HR department to get some insights.

  1. Startup handover

In smaller organizations - let's call them startups - the situation is usually more straightforward, yet not necessarily easier. Most probably there is no HR system in place, and you will have to rely on the previous manager's notes, if any.

Act quickly and be insistent

Handovers are usually boring must-dos for the previous manager. If they are around, they are usually busy with their new responsibilities and are not keen to spend time on the handover. Be insistent and act quickly to get the necessary information. It will save you a lot of time and nerves in the future.

Know your team

Being present and available to your team is a key to good collaboration. In small organizations, it is usually natural that you know everyone and work closely. If you share the manager's role with other responsibilities (like project management or technical leadership, etc.), you are in a relatively good position and most probably know your team well.

If you work in a larger organization and have a massive reporting line, the situation is much more demanding - you will have to plan your time carefully to be able to meet everyone and get to know them.

From my experience, the techniques that are very helpful in this situation are:

  • sitting in the same space as your team - if you are still coming to the office, it is a good idea to have your desk in the same room as your team. It will help you to be present and available for your team members for ad-hoc conversations (even over a cup of coffee), and gain the chance to observe people, their reactions, and habits without being intrusive.

  • regular one-on-ones - I will cover this aspect in the next section. One-on-ones are excellent for both sharing your thoughts and getting feedback from your team members.

  • team meetings - it is good to have a standing meeting (bi-weekly or monthly) with your team to discuss the current situation, plans, and challenges. This way you can share the information in a time-efficient way and give the team access to you to ask questions and share common concerns.

  • team building events - whenever the team invites you to join them for a beer, a barbecue, or a game night, do it! It is a great opportunity to build quality relationships with your team. In case you are lucky enough to have a budget for team-building events, use it wisely and regularly. The team will appreciate it even more if the initiative comes from you.

You're not one of them anymore

Never mind how good was your relationship with the people in your reporting line, from the very moment you became their manager, you are not one of them anymore. You are their manager. You will see a difference in how the people will treat you and how they will behave in your presence. There may be Slack/Teams channels created that you will be excluded from. It is natural and you shouldn't fight it. It doesn't mean that you can't be in a friendly relationship with your team, yet you must be prepared for the change.

One-on-one - cheat sheet

One-one-ones are a powerful tool. If your team is small enough, you can have them monthly with everyone. For larger teams, I would recommend doing it as often as possible, but not less than quarterly. With a reporting line of 10-15 people with a 1h slot for each, you will have to dedicate 2 MDs per month (10% of your time). It may feel a lot, yet it is a good investment, trust me.

Before the meeting

There is just one thing you need to do before the meeting - prepare. If you had a previous one-on-one, you should have notes from it. Review them and make sure there are no outstanding issues or action points you were supposed to address. If there are, make sure you have them on your agenda for the upcoming meeting. You should also have a list of topics to cover during the conversation. This will help you to keep the meeting focused and productive.

If it is the first one-on-one with a team member, make sure to explain to them what is the purpose of the meeting and what you expect from them.

Your list of topics should cover:

  • topics from the previous meeting,
  • "Their topics" - ask them what they would like to discuss during the meeting,
  • HR: like performance review, career path, personal development, etc.,
    • besides the mandatory HR reviews, making regular checks every month helps to avoid surprises during the official reviews,
  • your general feedback - as a manager, you should help your people grow, and the one-on-one is a perfect opportunity to share your thoughts on how they can improve,
  • their feedback - it is crucial to get feedback from your team members. It will help you to understand their needs and concerns and adjust your management style accordingly.
    • you may also ask for feedback regarding yourself - it shows that feedback is a two-way street and you are open to it.

During the meeting

As always, having a small talk is a good way to kick off the meeting. Make sure that this part is not too long, though. You have a list of topics to cover, and your employees may have some as well.

It is a good practice to ask what is on their mind so that their topics are covered first, or at least you can adjust the agenda accordingly. Rushing in the last 5 minutes or skipping some topics is usually a bad idea.

In general, the meeting is for them, not for you. Try to listen more than you talk. It is crucial to understand their needs and concerns. Obviously, some people may need to build trust with you to start sharing their thoughts and the first meetings may be short and not very productive. It is normal and you should be patient.

Make sure to take notes during the meeting. It is crucial to have a record of the important things discussed. It will also help you to follow up on the action points in the following occurent.

If you are taking notes on your laptop, make sure to inform your team member about it. It shows that you respect them and that you are not doing something else during the meeting. I prefer to take notes on paper. It helps me to focus on the conversation and not to be distracted by the computer.

Current topics

It is tempting to drive the conversation toward the current topics you are working on. It must not happen! At least not before all the important topics from the checklist are covered. It never works the other way around - if you start with the current topics, you will never get to the important ones.

Difficult conversations

They are a part of the job. Even though the topic deserves a post on its own, I'll give you a few tips on how to handle them:

  • don't wait with the conversation - if there is a problem, try to address it as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to solve it,
  • don't overthink it - sometimes what we think is a big issue is not a big deal for the other person,
  • be honest - tell it as it is, don't try to sugarcoat it,
  • be prepared - make sure you have all the facts and examples to back up your claims,
    • be careful with the examples - they should be relevant and not too personal, otherwise, you may escalate the problem instead of solving it,
  • listen - it is crucial to understand the other person's point of view. It will help you to find a solution that works for both of you.

Depending on the problem, you may want to involve HR. In some cases, like mobbing accusations, it is mandatory, in others it is up to your judgment and needs.

Usually, it is better to solve problems on your own, without escalating, nevertheless when in trouble, don't hesitate to ask for help. If you are in doubt, it may be a good idea to consult unofficially with HR before the conversation to make sure you are on the right track.

After the meeting

It is crucial to digitalize your notes and add follow-up actions to your calendar or to-do list. It is a good practice to send a summary of the meeting to your team member - at least if there are any action points assigned to him or her. It shows that you are serious about the meeting and that you are committed to the follow-up.

If you have an HR system in place, the notes from the meeting should be added there. It is a good practice to have a separate section for one-on-one notes. It will help you to track the progress and to have a history of the meetings. In smaller organizations, a tool like Google Docs should be sufficient to keep the notes.

Transparency is in general good, nevertheless, you should be careful with the notes from the one-on-ones. They are usually confidential and should not be shared. You may also have some thoughts captured that you want to keep for yourself - consider using a separate notebook for such notes.

A good thing to do is to also quantify the emotions and the general feeling from the meeting. Sometimes you can feel that something is wrong, and you can't put your finger on it. It is good to have a record of such feelings and to follow up on them in the next meetings. If the feeling persists, you may want to address it directly or via HR if it is a more serious issue (like harassment or potential flight risk).

Handover to the new manager

As a stepping-down manager (hopefully stepping up in your career), you should be prepared to hand over the team to the new one. It is important for at least two reasons:

  1. You are a professional - it is your duty to make sure that the new manager has all the necessary information to be able to manage the team effectively. Your reputation is at stake - if the new manager fails, it may be seen as your failure as well, for sure you will be blamed for not providing the necessary information.
  2. Continuity - the team should not feel the change in management. It is crucial to make sure that the new manager is up to speed with the current situation and can continue the work without any interruptions. The team should not be affected by the change.

Believe me or not, I haven't seen many good handovers in my career. It is a pity, as it is a great opportunity to show your professionalism and to help your team to go through the change smoothly. Be a part of the change!


Managing people is not a walk in the park. It requires a lot of effort, patience, and empathy. If you are new to it, it may be overwhelming, yet don't get discouraged! In the long run, it is a very rewarding job. You have a chance to help people grow, to build a great team, and to achieve great things together.

I hope that the tips I shared in this post will help you to become a better manager and to enjoy the journey. Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!


  1. good reads: Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders