How to Adapt to a New Workplace

Understanding Team Dynamics in the Workplace

Getting to know your colleagues and their work styles can make meetings go more smoothly.
Getting to know your colleagues and their work styles can make meetings go more smoothly.
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"The biggest challenge to a new employee in any company is to understand the various dynamics of how people work together," say Milo and Thuy Sindell in their book "Sink or Swim" [source: Sindell]. To start, try learning your colleagues' names and a few facts about them. What are their duties at work, their main interests, their family situation? If you didn't catch the person's name at first, ask again. Take notes.

Greet the people you work with warmly and sincerely when you see them. When you can, join them for lunch or a cup of coffee. Participate in group activities like ball games, an after-work drink or company parties. If you drink, limit yourself on such occasions to one or two drinks; you want to be sociable, not sloshed. Also, don't always talk shop away from the office; it's a time to form personal bonds.

Even if you're not part of a formal team, your attitude should project a team spirit. Use the term "we" rather than "I." Understand the goals that you and your colleagues are working toward. Volunteer for assignments, particularly the jobs no one wants. This will show that you're willing to pay your dues as the new person on the team. And don't complain, even if your colleagues engage in gripe sessions. Stay positive, and try to talk about solutions instead of problems. Praise the efforts of others frequently, and share credit for accomplishments, even if you've played a major role. It also helps to do favors for colleagues, like helping them out on a rush job. Don't hesitate to ask them to do you favors occasionally or to seek their advice.

While you're in the process of being accepted at a new workplace, it's important to avoid creating conflict with your coworkers. You'll need to understand office politics, but try to avoid participating. For example, don't immediately ally yourself with a particular clique. There are a few specific things you should definitely not do when you're new on the job in order to avoid conflict:

  • Avoid discussing controversial topics like religion, or politics.
  • Don't pass on gossip. Listen politely, but keep quiet about it.
  • Never discuss your or another's salary
  • Don't criticize your boss or the company even if others do.

One final way to fit into a workplace team is to show your appreciation. Thank everyone who helps you, and make it a habit to treat people with respect. Just as you'll want to get to know important people in the organization, it also helps to make friends in lower-level positions. Mailroom workers, maintenance people and receptionists can often be quite helpful during your period of adjustment. Make sure they know you are grateful.

Your human resources manager can be an excellent source of advice during your early days on the job. On the next page, you'll learn the key questions you should be asking as you assume your duties.