7 Things to Note When Joining a New Team
Tips for a better job transition
Transitioning from one job to another always comes with some level of uncertainty. Different team sizes, structures, products, and location can make settling in a challenging feat. The ideal situation we want is to settle in as soon as possible and feel at home at the new place. We begin our first few weeks with the hope that the new office is better, or at least, not worse than the previous organisation.
Looking back at some of my past experiences and mistakes at this type of change, here are some useful tips to keep in mind when joining a new team.
1. Don’t assume EVERYONE knows what they’re doing
When joining a new team, especially when it’s in a larger organisation, there’s a tendency to think you’re only joining to learn. You might have compared the revenue, technologies, and many other factors and see your new company as a huge step forward in your career. However, this admiration can quickly make you assume that everyone knows what they’re doing.
When we make this assumption, what it does is limit our tendency to ask more questions on the rationale behind some previous decisions. It also limits our tendency to suggest better solutions based on our experience. The key takeaway here is no matter how limited your previous experience is, it is worth something. It is one of the reasons for hiring you in the first place. So don’t hold back based on the assumption that everyone is an expert in their domain.
By refusing to offer potential solutions based on the assumption that your experience isn’t good enough will be a disservice to yourself and your new team. We all need people at all experience levels to challenge the status quo.
“Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking” — Steve Jobs
2. Don’t assume NOBODY knows what they’re doing
Here we have the yang to the previous point’s yin. This assumption comes up in two ways.
The first is common for people joining a smaller company from a larger organisation or people who’ve built successful products in the past and come with a wealth of knowledge and experience. With this first type, it’s easy to get into “teach mode” or have a “been there, done that” attitude. One way to combat this type of assumption is to bring your previous experience as suggestions to the table. The depth of knowledge is valuable and useful but bringing them as suggestions make it easy to understand what the current team has tried in the past. It also shows a willingness to relearn on your part since no two situations are the same and what worked in the past might not work this time.
The second way this assumption manifests is when trying to work on point one where we initially assumed everyone knows what they’re doing. After learning to share your suggestions and knowledge and then realising that your new team isn’t as experienced as you once thought, it can become easy to assume the opposite of them. As humans, we generally tend to put people in two buckets — superior or inferior. So if they’re not in the superior bucket, we might believe we can’t learn from them and then put them in the inferior bucket.
Whenever this assumption begins to control your thought, remember your new team has done well to get to where they are. They’ve done something right in the past to get the company to where it is today. And for you, you’ve joined for some reasons. One of which should be to learn and grow with them. So, learn about what they’ve done in the past and offer suggestions based on your experience.
“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” — Bill Nye
3. Ask the dumb questions
The importance of speaking up and asking questions cannot be overstated. Asking questions is useful for everything in life. It also helps with points one and two. As a rule, anytime you’re about to make an assumption, you can be sure you haven’t asked enough questions.
With a new team, you’ll be learning so many things about the company and how they work. The only way to learn quickly is to ask as many questions as possible. If anything is confusing, don’t plan to read or find out about it later. Ask immediately. If the answer is in a document, ask how relevant and up-to-date the document is. The answers you get will give you a lot of contexts and help you better understand your new organisation. Remember, asking the dumb questions is much easier when you’re a week on the job than after six months.
An important note here is not to limit your questions to only one source in the organisation. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to have different answers to the same question depending on who you ask. So while you’re getting lots of answers from your superiors, you also want to get the perspective of your teammates and even subordinates. Doing this will give you a balanced understanding of what goes on within the team.
“The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life.” — Confucius
4. Learn the hidden secrets
Another term for this is organisational awareness. It means to understand the culture of the organisation. The team’s culture is not what is written and it’s not the weekly team dinners or all-hands. It’s the little things that enable or hinder work to be done. You can learn this by observing people’s actions and not their words.
For example, if your new company is unable to retain a particular position, it is important to learn why that is the case, especially if it’s your current role. Sometimes, the problem might be with the structure and not with the people who left.
Unfortunately, these types of secrets are difficult to know during the interview. But learning about the hidden secrets can help you with the necessary strategy to do your best work at the new company. So in your first weeks, pay attention to the team dynamics between managers and direct reports. Also, pay attention to the top leadership. You can tell a lot about any company by looking at the executive team and how they work.
“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” — Edmund Burke
“History has a funny way of repeating itself” — Unknown
5. Build relationships
We spend almost half of our waking hours during the week with our colleagues. That’s a lot of time to spend with strangers. To make our work life better and more enjoyable, it is important to turn those strangers into acquaintances and even friends.
Building work relationships can go a long way in getting you to settle into your new company. It’s also not as difficult as I once thought. Sometimes it’s as easy as booking people’s calendars for lunch or join some groups during their outings. During these events, be sure not to limit your conversation to just work-related topics. Be friendly enough to care about their interests outside work. This will help you understand your coworkers better. You’ll be surprised how many people are willing to have a casual conversation during lunch to take the edge off their current task.
When it comes to building relationships and joining office groups, here’s something important to keep in mind.
“Don’t become involved in any office political battle without first asking yourself, ‘What’s in it for me?’ and then ‘What’s in it for them?’” — The Mafia Manager
As much as you’re trying to build relationships and become friends with your coworkers, stay neutral when it comes to office politics. One way to do that is to go wide in the organisation — make friends across different teams, not just in one department or group of people.
“People are more likely to remember the great social interaction they had with a colleague than the great meeting they both attended.” — Ron Garan
6. Don’t be afraid to fail
So you’re part of your new team, and everyone is wondering what you’ll bring to the table. For new junior team members, fear of failure is rarely a problem. There isn’t a lot of expectations hanging on their shoulders. However, for more senior members, imposter syndrome can surface once in a while.
Fear of failure usually leads to playing it safe, asking fewer questions, and keeping our doubts within since we believe speaking up might expose our perceived lack of knowledge. But not being afraid to fail is a freeing experience. It gives us the confidence to try new things and take bold steps. It also allows us to ask more questions, and as a result, we get more answers and grow.
One way to break free from the fear of failure is to see everything as a learning experience. No matter what happens, there’s a lesson waiting for you at the end of the road. If there’s always a lesson we can learn, and the learning experience is the goal, then failure is never an option in the first place. The only option is the chance to learn. Everything else is a bonus. With this mindset, the burden of failure drops completely. All we have left is the curiosity of a child and the freedom that comes with it.
“When you see everything as a learning experience, then you’ll realise failure was never an option”
7. Own your weird
In short, be yourself. We’re social beings and so thanks to evolution, we want to be accepted by the group. But striving to be accepted by the new group can mean forgetting who we are. So as we try to settle in and participate in the office rituals, we should always remain true to ourselves. We should be confident in our skin, our dress code, our core values, and everything that makes us unique.
It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t adapt and learn new ways from the team if it benefits us. But the motivation shouldn’t be to accepted by the new group as it would mean we have no solid footing of our own.
There’s an additional benefit to being new in the context of a workplace — you’ll be seeing things with fresh eyes, with no prior bias clouding your judgement. This fresh eye can help you see and highlighting issues from an outside perspective that existing team members do not consider a problem anymore.
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
Conclusion: Learn more, know less
As we go through life, a positive attitude to have is to keep on learning. No matter where we are or what we’re doing, it is important to realise that there’s so much we do not understand. There are so many things we do not know about ourselves, our work, and everything in the universe. And so, we should always remember that at any point, our knowledge is limited compared with what is yet unknown.
Keep learning, ask more questions, and be humble enough to say I don’t know.
“Confidence is ignorance. If you’re feeling cocky, it’s because there’s something you don’t know” — Eoin Colfer