A beginner’s guide to joining a new team

Laura Kuisma
Dec 31, 2018 · 5 min read

“Hi. I’m Laura, and I’m new around here.”

I feel like I’ve said this sentence a bazillion times this past month, all the while trying to remember the other person’s name, team, and what they do. (I invariably fail, and have to look people up on the intranet search.)

Let me back up a little. I didn’t just change jobs; I also changed industries, continents and cultures. I recently left my old consultancy job, packed up my things, moved from Finland to Singapore, and joined the DBS UX design team. I’m now the second UX writer on the team, and trying to help our now-two-woman-band get some traction internally. I’m sure other content people recognise the things we’re trying to make happen: making sure we get called in early enough to actually design content, not just edit copy; explaining the value of what we do to the organisation at large; figuring out the right workflows and tools to make the process a little less painful; and making sure we keep things consistent across our dozen-or-so products in five different markets.

Luckily, this isn’t my first time at the rodeo. Here’s a few things I’ve picked up along the way that might help you if you’re trying to figure your way around a new design team or a new-to-you kind of an organisation. Hopefully you’ll find them helpful in navigating your way around a new team or a new job.

1. Spend your first weeks getting to know people

Kind of a no-brainer, right? However, it’s easy to feel you have to start contributing actual value from day one. What I’ve noticed is that if I jump to execution too soon, I end up ignoring a bunch of Very Important Stuff, stuff I could have known if I’d just talked to people more first.

So grab coffee. Ask questions (even stupid ones — I keep asking about all the different acronyms that are used in the financial industry). Trawl your internal resources like blogs, knowledge bases, Dropbox, and the company intranet to get some understanding of the wider organisation and industry. It’s okay not to be looking for anything in particular, just read all sorts of stuff from across the company. This is important, as it sets you up to make connections between things quicker.

2. Understand your context

I’m very much a big picture person. I need to understand how the little parts slot into the whole. At the beginning of any conversation, I ask a few questions to orient whatever piece we’re talking about to all the other things I’ve been told about. These are ones that I’ve found helpful:

  • When do we consider this work successful?
  • If in a year’s time we feel this has failed, why do you think that would be?
  • Who are we doing this for?
  • What’s the primary need we’re serving?
  • What other projects is this relevant to?
  • Who’s involved in this project? Who’s sponsoring it?
  • How did this project get started?

3. Bring the good stuff with you

Do some self-reflection about what you’ve learned at your previous job. What did you really like that you want to keep on doing? What habits or ways of working do you want to leave behind? (Type-As might enjoy making a list of these.)

You can bring those good ways-of-working and skills or habits with you, even if they’re not explicitly part of how your current organisation works. For me, I learned a whole lot at my last job, and these are some of the things I’m consciously bringing with me:

  • Asking for feedback. I try to get feedback on everything I do — and request for things I can improve on, so it doesn’t become about feeding my ego. I have a set of questions I’ve liked using in the past, so I’m adapting them to the context of my new team. You can ask for feedback about all sorts of things: after running a workshop, during an informal chat, or by setting up a quick one-on-one after working on a project. It’s good for you, makes you better, and helps you figure out what’s most helpful to your new team.
  • Active listening. I sometimes find it really hard to give people the space to finish sharing their ideas or thoughts. My brain instantly wants to jump to solutions and ideas, so this one has been a huge lesson for me personally in patience and communication. I want to keep on using active listening to create space for my colleagues to share their thoughts, and help me truly understand what they’re saying. Try it: After someone finishes speaking, wait three seconds before saying anything. Then reflect back what they just said (“It sounds like…”), then seek affirmation (“Did I understand correctly?”). The discussions you have this way are amazing. It’s definitely a skill I want to keep working on and improving, even as I learn to navigate my new organisation.
  • Seek to understand motivations. I find that asking people questions about what motivates them is a great way of understanding your team dynamics. For example, I’ve been explicitly asking about expectations: What do you expect from me in this situation? How can I be most helpful to you? I also ask questions to understand why a given project is deemed important: What’s the motivation behind this? Who’s really driving it? Why?

Once you know why something is being done or what the expectation towards you is, it’s much easier to either understand how you can best help out, or if you feel the situation requires it, gently question the premises of what’s being done.

4. Give yourself time

Changing jobs, even if you don’t change continents like I did (now that’s a whole other story), takes up some serious mental energy. Not only are you trying to navigate a whole new group of people and remember All The Names, you’re also probably navigating a new office, a new part of town, a new commute, a new team, a new industry, a new process… You get my drift. There’s a lot of novelty, and this takes up some serious brain power.

It’s okay to go home exhausted. Make sure that in your first weeks, you’ve got time to do some relaxing in the evenings, with plenty of rest and space for spacing out. Go easy on the social engagements and after-work activities if you feel they drain you, and give yourself some slack. Plan some R&R for the weekends, whatever that looks like for you. Personally, I made sure to have a good novel on the go, maybe a long weekend walk planned, and some yoga.

Soon enough, you’ll find your energy returning to normal, you’ll have a teamful of newly familiar faces, and a real sense of how you can contribute.

Take a deep breath. It’s going to be great.

I’m curious: do you have any tips for navigating big career changes or joining new teams?

DBS Design

Stories from the UX design team at DBS Bank in Singapore.

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