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Being new can be really challenging.

You have the stress of starting a new job and inevitably you are also struggling with the feelings of “will I fit in?”

It is completely normal to have fears or anxiety about meshing well with your new team. It is human nature to struggle with questions like “will others like me?” whenever you are entering a new social circle.

But if you make an effort to be likable and try to fit in, I assure you that you will!

When you are new, each person is seeing you through their own lens; a lens that is going to be colored and affected their past experiences, current feelings about their work, and their personal goals and desires. This means that some of your new coworkers are going to be more welcoming than others.

If you are entering a well-established team, remember that people have defined roles, hierarchy, and responsibilities – and as the new kid on the block, you have to navigate these social currents to figure out how to fit.

In order to start your new role on a high note you need to do 2 things:

  1. Understand the underlying social norms (and unfortunately these are seldom documented!)
  2. Get a clear understanding of your role and responsibilities so you know what is going to be expected of you.

This guide is going to walk you through a step-by-step process to help you accomplish those things.


“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” ― Jim Rohn

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Step 1.  The Map of Relationships

Depending on your onboarding process, you may have a lot or a little support. Don’t fret if you feel a little lost, though; it’s completely normal when you are thrown head first into a new job.

As you go through your first few weeks at a new job, you want to understand the social structure of your organization.  And keep in mind that there are often two social structures – one that is defined by an org chart (i.e. who reports to who and is responsible for what) and an informal hierarchy (i.e. social cliques and groups of friends).

It is important, especially early on, that you align yourself with the “right” people.  And “right” is very subjective here, since there are going to be a lot of factors influencing who is in your new social circle. If you want to be known as a superstar, though, it helps to identify the other superstars in the organization.

Even if you don’t become friends with them, recognizing the top performers will help you hone in on the criteria that makes someone successful in your new team and company.

As you meet new people, sit in on meetings, and hear others talk to one another, pay attention to little details. These details will help you understand how people relate to one another as well as their reputations at work.

I like to create a relationship map of the organization. These are little mind maps of an organization that can help me see how people relate to one another, who is working on what projects, and how responsibilities break down.  They can also help you infer the decision-making process and how to get things done (which is really important to securing some early successes).

Understanding who the leaders are (both formal and informal) helps you be more deliberate in the relationships you forge with each person. You can often identify formal leaders by their title and role, and informal leaders seem to be the ones that people look to for information, or are the ones that seem to lead the group out to lunch each day.

Here are some tips to help you putting this together:

  • Listen more than you speak. Initially you are like a sponge just absorbing and taking in information. Make an effort to pay close attention to what is going on around you.
  • Pay attention to how people interact with one another. What is their body language? Do they seem excited and engaged, or tight-mouthed and closed-off?
  • Find a mentor. Luke Skywalker sought out Obi-Wan Kenobi, and you should do the same. If you are lucky you may be assigned someone, but if not, look to those around you as informal mentors.


Step 2: Define clear expectations for your role

As you figure out the people aspects of your new company, you also need to get a handle on what is expected of you. No matter what your role, chances are there are a lot of implicit and explicit expectations coming from all directions. For example, just think about some of these questions:

  • What do your coworkers think you should be working on?
  • How do your projects will fit into the other projects?
  • What are the criteria used to judge your performance?
  • How are you expected to contribute outside your team?
  • What is the timeline and due dates for your work?

It can be a bit overwhelming to answer all of these at once, and I wouldn’t recommend it.

The best place to start is almost always with your direct supervisor and assigned mentor (if you have one). These are your most important relationships (at least in the beginning) so make an extra effort to start these conversations on the right foot.

When you meet with your manager or your mentor, be on your best behavior (as if I needed to tell you!), and make the most of your time together.

  • Be prepared. Hopefully you’ll have some items to ask about, so don’t be afraid to bring a list of questions. As you work, keep track of any questions that come up and write them down. That way you are prepared and can batch all of your q&a together.
  • Take notes. If you don’t have a super crazy verbal memory then bring along a pen and pad. Write down answers, or even more questions throughout your discussion. Until you get the lay of the land it can be hard to know what really is important, and having good notes is one helpful way to be sure you have the information that you need, when you need it.
  • Pay attention. If you need to, leave your cell phone at your desk. Treat the other person as if they are your number one priority – since in this meeting they should be!
  • Verify your understanding. If there is an acronym or specialized terminology you don’t know, make a note of it and be sure to ask in this meeting. It’s better to ask behind-the-scenes rather than to interrupt a big group meeting for a minor detail no one else needs clarification on.

Are you so overwhelmed you aren’t sure where to start? Here are some great topics and questions to get you started for these oh-so-important first meetings:

  • What is my first assignment?
    • How long would you expect this to take?
    • Who will I be working with? Who should I ask if I get stuck?
    • Is this typical of my future assignments, or just a first assignment?
    • What can I expect after this task?
    • What do I do when I am finished?
  • Are there any resources (documentation, tools, and intranet site) I should know about?
  • What accounts and logins do I have?
    • What are the uses for each?
  • Who do I go to for help if something isn’t working how it should?
  • Are there any regular meetings (weekly, monthly, etc.) I should attend?
    • What is the meeting culture here (do things start on time, do these meetings have a lot of people, am I expected to participate early on)?
    • How often will we meet?
      • Will the format of the meeting be similar to this one?

Of course, you may have a whole bunch of other questions too.  Just keep a list of them so when you have the chance to ask, you won’t miss anything.

As you go through your first weeks or months, don’t be afraid to ask others their opinion on your work role. If you are in a leadership role, or have a position that spans several disciplines, schedule meetings with all of your key partners.  If you hear different expectations from different people, don’t be afraid to bring those up to your supervisor to get a handle on the best way to handle it.

In each of your conversations be nice and focus on building your relationship with that person.  It will give you the best chance to shine.


Step 3: Understand how you fit into the larger picture

Once you have a handle on your day-to-day work, the next step is to make sure that all of the work you are doing is the highest impact, most strategic thing you should be doing. Chances are you won’t be able to determine this for a few weeks at least though, since you really need to get a handle of the culture and your actual responsibilities first (small steps).

However, once you are humming along and know how things work, it is time to really dive into priorities. I like to think of this as defining the strategy of your work. To be a great strategist you need to really understand the bigger picture of your team and company.

How does your work fit into the team’s goals?

Do you know your team’s goals? Are they written down somewhere? How are you doing on meeting them?

If your team lead is less experienced or you work in a more fluid culture, the answer to these questions may be ambiguous at best. That is okay, though, because most of the time it is pretty easy to figure out.

For most teams, it will be about delivering something in a specified timeframe. For other teams, it may be about hitting certain metrics.

If you aren’t sure, you can approach your supervisor with your hypothesis, which is often better received than a more direct question. For example, instead of “What are our team goals?” (which can be hard to answer if your team doesn’t have goals), ask “It seems like we are working towards handling tickets as fast as possible. Is that the main goal for the team?  Are there others?”

While both questions get at the same answer, the second one shows that you have put some thought into what you want to know and aren’t being flippant about a lack of leadership or direction.

How does our team’s work help our company?

Once you have a handle of your team’s contribution, the next thing to understand is how that work fits into the overall company.

Hopefully you have figured out the company goals. These are frequently printed and put on the wall, talked about in all-hands meetings, or generally shared more broadly. In many big organizations, though, it can be hard to understand how your little team impacts that big revenue number, for example.

These are great conversations to have with your supervisor as you are getting to know them better. Once you understand the company goals, it is much easier to help your team fit into them better.

For example, if you are in a company where the goal is new customers, prioritizing work (like a marketing campaign) that helps you attract new customers may be more important than adding functionality requested by current users.

This is the context you are working in, so understanding it will help you prioritize everything going forward and do the best work (which ultimately is what will make you super successful).


Keep on working

Even if you feel you still feel like you are in over your head just fake it ’til you make it.

When you were hired they saw something special about you, so be the person that shows they made the right decision bringing you on board. Keep paying attention to the culture, asking good questions, and get those small accomplishments under your belt.  You are going to rock it.

Tags: change, communication, leadership practice, mission, new job, Strategy, team,

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