Imagine being on a team that you’ve worked hard to nurture; a team that has finally reached the point where you’re trusting each other, collaborating well, and working efficiently.  Now imagine that after all the effort and time invested, you’re told that you are moving to a new team.  Aaaaahhh!

This is what happened to one of my teammates this week.  Thankfully, she’s not leaving our team at work.  Instead, it’s the team she’s been working with on her Master’s Degree.  She’s only got one course left and the professor has tossed the names back in the hopper and reformed the teams.  My colleague was none too happy. I empathize.

Damn those professors trying to foster learning and personal growth experiences!

Here’s what I told her.  Maybe it will be helpful to you the next time you have to work with a brand new team.

  1. Introduce yourself warmly. Although you haven’t worked on a team together, if you’ve been in the same organization (or in my colleague’s case, the same class) your new teammates have probably seen you from afar.  Who knows what they’ve been thinking about you, so be warm, personal, and friendly in your introduction. If you’ve got something funny or self-depricating, go for it.
    Sample: “Hi I’m Liane. I’m just coming over from the marketing team. You might remember me as the person who hit ‘reply all’ on the Holiday party invite telling the whole company I was having bunion surgery that day!”
  2. Be direct about the change. It’s ok to tell folks that you were in a rhythm on your old team and you’re a little apprehensive about how the new team is going to work. If you played a role on your old team, you can share that but make sure you’re open to a new role.
    Sample: “On my previous team, I tended to provide the hair-brained ideas that got the conversation started. Let me know if you want me to do that here or if you prefer a more logical approach.”
  3. Share your owner’s manual. Just like your dishwasher has a manual for how best to place the dishes to get them clean, you should share your owner’s manual for how you work best.  This can include the times of day you’re most productive, your preference for written or oral communication, which subjects you’re passionate about…anything that will help your team know how to get the best from you.
    Sample: “Because I am usually in full-day client sessions, if you need anything from me, just send an email and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. I only use my cell phone for urgent stuff.”
  4. Find downtime together. Once you’ve been with the team for a week or two, find some time to relax together.  Whether it’s a Friday lunch out of the office or a quick drink after work, being outside of the formal environment will be good for building a personal connection.  The same is true for casual emails or texts; they promote a more relaxed interaction.
    Sample: “I’m still up working on this presentation for tomorrow—how’s your piece going?”

The most important idea is that you’re not the only one feeling a little awkward with the shake up.  Habits are hard to break. So just be calm and be open about what you’re experiencing.  If you make it ok to talk about the change, you’ll get through it much faster than those teams waiting and watching afraid to take the first step for fear of doing something someone doesn’t like.

Getting good at joining a new team is a great life skill.  That’s probably why my colleague’s professor is forcing it on the class. Maybe she’ll thank that prof someday.

Further Reading

Struggling to Fit In on a New Team

Give your Teammates your Owner’s Manual

How do you Integrate a New Member onto an Existing Team