While this article was prompted by OpenAI’s turbulent week, it no longer applies to OpenAI as that mutiny ultimately failed and Sam Altman is staying in place. Nor does it apply to the vast majority of more normal cases in which new leaders should converge into teams before trying to evolve them. But if you are taking over a team that successfully mutinied, as that team’s new leader, shock the team and do a hard cultural reset of the team’s values and behaviors immediately, followed by building relationships with those that opt in.

A mutinous team is not one into which a new leader should converge. If and when the individuals on the team step back and look at the team, they know this is not what they want to be. But they all got caught up in getting rid of a common enemy – their old leader – and behaved badly.

Instead, the new leader should give the individuals on the team the opportunity to reform as a starkly different team doing the right things based on the right values and winning.

  • Immediately change the balance of consequences for mutiny, inciting mutiny, talking behind people backs and the like. This needs to be a hard change, not an evolution. Make it clear that all the things they did on the way to the mutiny are unacceptable any more.
  • Fix the team. Reset core values like integrity and respect and the right mix of innovation, discipline, collaboration and customer-centricity as appropriate.
  • Invest to generate early wins – to give the team confidence in itself.

Immediately change the balance of consequences

Michael Brown laid this out years ago. If you want to change others’ behaviors, change the antecedents/prompts and the balance of consequences

To move them to positive behaviors

  • Increase positive consequences for positive behaviors
  • Increase negative consequences for negative behaviors

And

  • Reduce the positive consequences for negative behaviors (like mutiny)
  • Reduce the negative consequences for positive behaviors. (It’s frightening how often we punish people for doing what we ask them to do.)

A post-mutiny new leader should change the balance of consequences immediately.

Reset Core Values

OpenAI’s ChatGPT suggests the five most common corporate values are:1) Integrity, 2) Teamwork and Collaboration, 3) Customer-Centricity, 4) Innovation, 5) Respect.

Integrity and respect are always foundational. All the individuals on a high-performing team must act with honesty, transparency and ethical conduct in all aspects of their work. Further, those individuals must treat each other with mutual respect.

The third value for a high-performing team will depend on the team’s core focus.

  • For design-focused organizations, it’s likely innovation
  • For production-focused organization, accountability
  • For delivery-focused organizations, collaboration
  • For service-focused organizations, customer-centricity

A post-mutiny new leader should reset these values immediately.

Invest to generate early wins

Winning is contagious. Over-invest to generate early wins. By definition, these are not the big wins that take a lot of time. These are small wins, that build momentum and give the team confidence in themselves and in you as their new leader.

See who adjusts to you

Instead of converging and evolving, a post-mutiny new leader should invite team members to follow them. Not all will. In an earlier article I laid out seven keys to adjusting to a new boss. A post-mutiny new leader should pay attention to which people do or not do these things:

  • Treat their new boss, decently as a human being.
  • Believe the best about their new boss.
  • Tell their new boss they want to be part of the new team and follow up with actions to reinforce this.
  • Present a realistic and honest game plan to help the new boss learn and be open to new directions themselves.
  • Understand and move on their new boss’ agenda immediately, doing what their new boss needs them to do, the way their new boss needs them to do it.
  • Adjust to their new boss’ working style immediately.
  • Deliver early wins that are important to their new boss and team.

Those that do these things are opting in and can be part of the new team. Those that don’t, need to go somewhere else.

If the new leader is “interim” or “acting,” they have an advantage. Few change leaders survive their own change. The interim or acting leader doesn’t have to worry about that. They can do what’s right, and create a team ready for the next new leader to converge into and then evolve.

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