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How to Be a Star When You Join a New Team

Changing jobs and joining a new team can be intimidating. But with these simple strategies, you can fit in quickly and become the hero you strive to be.

By
Rachel Cooke
6-minute read
Episode #634
The Quick And Dirty

Assimilating into a new team and quickly becoming a hero is simple if you take these actions:

  • Begin with relationships. Focus on building trust with your coworkers first.
  • Learn the unwritten. What subtle rules exist outside of the company handbook?
  • Observe with curiosity. Watch, listen, and ask questions before you jump into the fray.
  • Find early wins. What little things can you do to make someone's work life easier?
  • Use "used to" sparingly. Don't give the impression you're trying to remake your new team into a previous one.
  • Set boundaries early. Taking on more than you can handle is the road to burnout.

Want to guess how many jobs you’re likely to have in your lifetime? According to a 2019 survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it’s 12! 

Changing jobs can bring about a tremendous blend of feelings. For me, it was always exciting, a sense of a fresh start and a new opportunity to deliver and impress. But also, there was the anxiety. What if I’m not a fit? What if they don’t like me? What if no one picks me for the kickball team? (Occasionally, my elementary school nightmares would seep into my grownup misgivings).

What if I’m not a fit? What if they don’t like me? What if no one picks me for the kickball team?

If a job change is on the horizon for you, then let's talk about some strategies that will help you stand out as a new member of a team.

While I'm at it, allow me to double-up on the value of this episode. Even if you're not changing jobs, the strategies I'm about to share with you can be used to reinvent your relationship with your existing team. So, go for it!

Begin with relationships

Starting a new job can leave you feeling like you’re drinking from a fire hose. A ton of information will be coming at you, likely well more than you’re able to absorb and recall at first. But don’t panic. The most valuable thing you can do in your first 90 days in a new job is to focus on relationships over facts and data.

Start by making connections with your new team members—in groups, and also one-on-one. Strong relationships with your team members will set you up for success. When you have questions, need to seek collaboration, or want advice on a sticky situation, having trusting relationships will become your secret sauce.

So begin by just connecting with people and focus on building trust. Share what you’re willing to share about yourself and learn about each of them as you go. 

Learn the unwritten 

Many organizations have written documentation designed to tell you how things work. Between your company website, an employee handbook, and the employee policy center on the intranet, there will be no shortage of official information on how to get things done.

Many of these questions won’t be answered right away. And you certainly won't find them in a handbook.

But if this isn’t your first rodeo, then you know how important it is to learn the unwritten rules of getting things done. Who are the gatekeepers? What are your boss’s pet peeves? What are the cultural norms of meetings—slides or no slides? 

Many of these questions won’t be answered right away. And you certainly won't find them in a handbook. Clarity and understanding will come to you with time. But in your early days, it’s a good idea to have your antennae up. Start watching the dynamics of how things play out. As you build trust with your teammates, test your assumptions with them. Invite them to help you make sense of what you’re seeing.

This rulebook—the book of the unwritten—will be your greatest asset over time.

Observe with curiosity

You show up on day one and you can’t wait to make an impact. After all, they hired you for the ideas, energy, and go-getter attitude you put on display during your interview.

But here’s where patience becomes your virtue.

In my own business, when a client hires me to design an organization or facilitate an important conversation, they expect me to deliver value and expertise. But I never offer a recommendation without a deep understanding of the current state. I ask lots of questions about what’s working well, where their strengths are, and what we must preserve throughout our engagement. 

To have a real impact on a team or organization, it’s important that you begin by watching, asking, and listening.

It’s always more efficient to build success upon a foundation of what’s already working—to meet a team where they are. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use your assets.

This same principle applies to you. To have a real impact on a team or organization, it’s important that you begin by watching, asking, and listening. Understand what their priorities are, what’s been working well, and where there may be low-hanging fruit. 

4. Find early wins

Listening well may highlight an opportunity to score a win. Look for a niggling pain point or inconvenience. Can you spot something that you could easily fix, streamline, or enhance? It doesn’t even have to be something in your official job scope. Just make someone’s life a little easier. The impact will pay off in spades. 

In a previous job, I joined an HR team just as a new Talent Management system was being implemented. My team was being flooded with questions coming from the business. And staying on top of those responses was commanding a lot of our time and focus.

Just make someone’s life a little easier. The impact will pay off in spades.

I offered to put together an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) document which could be posted to an intranet and updated regularly. My boss looked at me as if I’d offered to massage her feet while feeding her grapes. That FAQ took me two hours to build, and it saved us many times that.

Where can you find an opportunity to make something simpler and earn yourself a bit of social capital?

5. Use "used to" sparingly

I have an old and beloved tank top from my college days at Cornell. It’s been relegated to exercise-wear. And whenever I used to wear it to the gym, one of the trainers would knowingly chuckle. He told me it reminded him of Andy from The Office, who would always talk about his days at Cornell

Like Andy, I’m proud of having attended Cornell, and I learned things I’ve carried with me. And yes, I wear the tank. But I don’t refer to it excessively. Because only really annoying sit-com characters do this.

Your new colleagues don’t want to feel like you’re trying to turn them into your prior team.

The same applies when you’re starting a new job. Hopefully, you’re proud of having been a part of your previous company. You experienced and learned a lot, and you want to apply those insights to your new world of work.

Do so. But don’t be an Andy. Your new colleagues don’t want to feel like you’re trying to turn them into your prior team. So rather than saying "At my last company we ..." try something like "I’ve seen other teams do X successfully" when you’re wanting to harness your past experience. 

6. Set boundaries early

Know what’s harder than setting boundaries? Re-setting boundaries. 

You want to be seen early as a hero. But if you do this by taking on more than you can manage and then overworking yourself to keep up, you're headed for burnout.

You’ll be noted for your contributions instead of your undying commitment to work at all hours.

Decide who you want to be in the long-run—how, when, and where you’d like to work—and manage those boundaries early. As long as you’re focused, listening, connecting, and finding small wins, you’ll be noted for your contributions instead of your undying commitment to work at all hours. And that’s the goal here.

So whether that new job is lined up, on the horizon, or just a twinkle in your eye, I deem you officially prepared to quickly become a mission-critical member of your new team.

About the Author

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke is a leadership and workplace expert who holds her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Founder of Lead Above Noise, she has been named a top 100 Leadership Speaker by Inc. Magazine and has been featured in Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and many more.