A New Face in the Huddle

A New Face in the Huddle

As the clock ticks down, the team gathers in preparation for one last play.  Confidence is shaken a bit when everyone realizes there is a new face in the huddle and no one has time to run the rookie through the playbook.

While breaking in a new teammate during the final big play of the game may be unusual in the sports world, new teammates showing up is a constant reality in today’s workplace.  And the pressure to perform in the midst of a teammate transition is felt by all involved. 

 The transition into the team is usually more scripted and supported when the new job description includes ‘leader of the team’. New manager team assimilation exercises are often an early agenda item in team meetings.  We all recognize devoting team time to get to know the new leader builds trust and effective collaboration.

But what about the new team member who isn’t the team captain?  At best, there is a quick introduction of the person at a meeting and the team turns its attention to the next agenda item.  My experience is to devote more team member introductions will payoff with similar benefits.  There are three specific questions where new teammates need help navigate:


Who Are These People and Why Are We Together?

Teams operate differently. Some teams are highly integrated and work closely together to create common work products.  Other groups assemble to merely communicate their mostly independent actions.  If there is high integration with shared problem solving and decision making, the new person needs to view team encounters as essential to daily work.   On the other hand, a ‘loose coalition’ team style means the new person is expected to act independently and not overly depend on team encounters to move work ahead.  A final word here:  regardless of operating style, I’ve found less risk in new performers starting assignments with a heightened approach to reach out and communicate. 


What Do I Need To Know That No One Is Telling Me?

Whether tight or lose, all teams have  unwritten rules to be quickly understood.  One excellence move is to assign an experienced and trusted co-worker to help, a player-coach who can explain the unspoken and pass along early adjustment tips.  Much like visiting a foreign land, having a local show you around makes all the difference.  One valuable role of the player-coach is to help the new person hit the right balance of how much to listen and observe vs. jump in and advocate change.

Another important question to answer is  where does team work get done?  I’ve worked in two organizations with very different answers.  My early career work placed me on teams where problems and decisions were hashed out in regular team meetings.  In fact, it was expected to engage in lively and often messy debates to resolve issues and align everyone.  Later, I’ve worked in team settings were meetings topics were well processed prior to any group encounter.  In those settings, knowing whom to talk to in advance and how to position topics in meetings became critical.  Moreover, I had to learn the subtle signals in team meetings on whether everyone was really on board in a decision or more individual follow up time was required to reach commitment.


What Do They Want To Know?

The fundamental issue of new members entering a performing team is trust.  Trust is built in a number of ways, including knowing about the new person – interests, style, talents, pet peeves.  One practice is to set time aside at a team meeting to allow the new member to be introduced.  Keeping it light and equally allowing others to reciprocate works well to build the right tone of trust.  Similar to a “new manager assimilation”, this is investing team time to accelerate strong relationships.  I’ve facilitated introductions where all respond to questions, such as what are the expectations of the new role, what start-up lessons learned to share and how they will support the new team mate. 

In today’s highly matrixed and collaborative organization, individual talent performs in the context of the team.  Thoughtfully guiding the start up process with the new player and the standing team increases the odds of winning through transitions.

© Kevin D. Wilide