Joining an Established Team
Joining an established team is never easy. Over time, teams and groups develop their own particular culture and norms, and newcomers have to learn those norms. You may also need to get to grips with the politics of the team, including the unwritten rules and power balance. What’s more, when you join a team, you are also likely to be starting a new job—which may mean learning new skills and approaches as well.
All in all, there are some serious challenges involved. This page provides tips for how to behave when you are joining an established team.
1. Always Be Yourself
It is tempting when joining a new team to try to be what you think your new colleagues want.
However, the best advice that anyone can give you is to be yourself.
You were (presumably) recruited for the skills and qualities that you can bring—so bring them. It’s also hard to pretend to be something that you are not, especially for any length of time, so it’s best to start out as you mean to go on.
2. Find Out What You are Expected to Do
This sounds obvious, but one of your key tasks is to find out what you are expected to do.
This has two aspects:
What is your job?
Particularly, what tasks are you expected to do on a day-to-day basis? You also need to know if there are any decisions or tasks that you need to make or do immediately.
Where are you chiefly expected to add value? In other words, what is your unique knowledge, skill or experience that has led to you being selected for this role?
3. Build Relationships with Your New Colleagues
Set up meetings with each of your new colleagues, and find out what they do, and how their work (and yours) fits in with the rest of the team.
It’s also worth getting their views on the team generally, and how things are done. This can uncover conflicts within the team, especially if you hear different things from different people. It will also give you a sense of how people like to work, and their general approaches. This is important because the team is, of course, the sum of the people within it.
Try to spend more time listening than talking, because you need to know more about them.
Having said that, it’s also a good idea to share a bit about you, to establish some common ground, and start to build rapport. After all, your new colleagues want to know you, too. However, these initial meetings should be much more about listening than talking about yourself.
A special case? Joining an established remote team
Are there any differences between joining a remote team that is already established, and any other team?
Yes and no.
In many ways, no, because you still have to build relationships with other team members.
However, this will take longer with remote co-workers. It is possible, but you will need to put more effort into creating interactions by phone or video conference, and ideally, in person, so that you build rapport.
The real question arises when (or if) you are expected to be in an office, rather than all working remotely. This may not apply if you have been recruited to a fully remote team, with the intention that this will continue. However, post-pandemic, some people have reported issues about ‘going back’ to a new workplace, including sexist or ageist comments because they did not fit with the ‘standard’ employee profile, and problems with office banter.
It is worth saying that these kind of comments should never be encouraged or tolerated. If you are subject to comments of this kind, report them to your manager, and to your HR department if one exists.
4. Watch What’s Going on Around You
One very good way to work out how the relationships and power works in your new team is to watch what’s going on.
Observe the interactions, and who seems to make the decisions, or is best able to influence others. These are the people that you need to know.
Look for the gatekeepers
Clue: secretaries and personal assistants almost always hold a lot of power.
They have the ear of the boss, and they are also privy to a lot of information. They often hold a ‘gatekeeper’ role in any team and, if they don’t like you, you won’t get that access or the information.
It follows that this is much harder in a fully or partly remote team, but it is still a useful exercise.
5. Keep Your Ego Under Control
You may have been recruited to the team for very good reasons, and you may bring unique skills and expertise. However, at least for the first few weeks, keep your ego under control, and try to avoid making suggestions to ‘improve’ things.
Instead, ask questions about how and why things are done.
If processes don’t make any sense, this may become clear to people as they try to explain them to you, especially if they have to explain the rationale behind the process. And if they do make sense, you won’t have risked your capital within the team by criticising them unnecessarily. It is also helpful to understand the whole picture before you start trying to pick apart particular elements of it.
6. Deliver on Any Promises
If you promise to do something, make sure you can deliver.
It doesn’t matter whether that’s something relatively small, like buying cakes for someone’s birthday, or formatting a report for someone, or something major, like an important client deadline. If you promise, deliver.
People will remember these early days – and first impressions will stick for a long time.
7. Ask for Help if You Need it
There is a fine balance between using your initiative effectively to get the job done, and floundering helplessly because you simply don’t know how to do something.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from either your manager or your colleagues if you are not sure what you are meant to be doing.
Generally speaking, people like being asked for help (as long as you’re being reasonable, and not interrupting their work too often). They would usually much rather that you asked for help than got things wrong. This is especially true if they are going to have to sort out your mess.
8. Remember That It Takes Time to Settle into a New Job
This is one of the most important things to remember: you won’t—and shouldn’t expect to—be able to do everything from your first day.
That’s not to say that you won’t be able to contribute immediately, but you will probably be most effective after a few months in the organisation or team. By then, you will have learned more about how things work, and how to get stuff done.
Make the most of these early days, when it is legitimate to ask questions about almost anything.
9. See if You Can Find a Mentor
Especially if you are joining a new organisation, it may be helpful to find yourself a mentor beyond your team. This might be a peer, or someone more senior—or even someone more junior. The point is mostly that they are prepared to help you settle in by acting as a sounding board for any problems or issues you encounter.
A mentoring relationship does not have to be formal.
Just ‘finding a friend’ in another department can be a good way to learn more about the organisational culture, and make sure that you’re not inadvertently going to tread on people’s toes.
10. Get Involved in Non-Work Activity Too
Obviously getting the job done is the most important aspect of your first few weeks in a new job. However, getting involved in non-work activity like organisational socials or sports is a good way to show that you are a team player, who is prepared to work for the organisation more generally. It is also a good way to meet people beyond your immediate team.
However, don’t do this to the exclusion of work—you need to show that you are committed to the job too!