How to Make Your Mark When You Enter a Team

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For most of us, working on projects and deliverables by ourselves is becoming increasingly scarce. We are constantly joining existing teams, forming new ones or otherwise meeting in groups. In fact, studies of managers and knowledge workers reveal that they spend between 25%-80% of their time in meetings, suggesting that “teamwork” is a primary vehicle for the modern business today. And, meeting time has only increased since 2008.

Because a group takes on the chemistry of its collective members, each one has its own dynamic and requires you to think differently. What’s more, unlike the dreaded “leaderless” team–a common form of torture in business school–most workplace teams have some kind of decision maker associated with them.

That said, in every group setting you enter, you’re leaving an impression of yourself. I’d even go so far as to say that meetings and group projects are part of an ongoing audition for your job.  You’re training other people how to see and treat you. When you’re the new person on a team, it pays to have a strategy for how you’ll both assimilate and add value.

Consider these strategies as you make your mark and take control of your impression in groups:

Have a point of view

Yes, this might sound obvious.  But, when you’re the new person in a group, many people tend to play it safe and behave more like a student or observer, than an engaged member.  In an interview I did on next generation leadership with Shannon Herzfeld, Vice President of Government Relations at Archer Midland Daniels Company, Herzfeld recommended, “Ask the tough business questions.  Many younger women want to be helpful and nice rather than portraying themselves as someone who grows the bottom line.”  Make a critical comparison, highlight an industry trend or statistic, or inquire constructively about how a conclusion was reached.

Make contact with the lead horse

If you want to be seen as a team member who has the teeth to handle tough problems, then don’t act overly deferential to your team’s leader.  When I wrote Pushback, I asked Marie Chandoha, President & CEO of Charles Schwab Investment Management about this.  She noted, “I do a lot of work with horses and what I’ve learned is that in a herd, there’s always one dominant animal. I’ve noticed that a new horse will have a short interaction with the leader rather early on. That shows that the horse is assertive. It’s not a drawn out or continual interaction though; there isn’t a need to keep asserting power.”  Show faith in yourself by knowing you’re worthy to make contact with high-ranking individuals and mentors.  While being considerate of their time, ask them to expand on a topic they brought up or express your interest, experience or background in a key area.

Assess the dynamics of the team

What you pay attention to on “Day 1” with a team is undoubtedly going to be different than where you focus your energy after “Year 1”. Early on, you should be balancing making a mark with absorbing the culture of a group. How do people communicate, make a point or disagree with each other? How evenly to people share the speaking “platform”?  Once you’re a more established team member, think about—with intention—how you’re contributing to the team in terms of energy, mood, and outputs. Aim high and be honest if you’re really executing on that vision. Executive coach Ann Daly PhD recently wrote about the power of being intentional before a meeting and noted, “Early assertiveness becomes self-reinforcing within the group… Projecting confidence inspires confidence.”

How you show up early on in a team situation leaves a lasting impression with those around you. It’s not that you can’t sculpt your personal brand once you’ve joined a group, but life will be much easier if you can get it right from the beginning.

How have you joined a group and made your mark?  Either the wrong way—or the right way? 

This article appeared in Forbes on August 1, 2014.

Selena Rezvani

Selena Rezvani is a recognized consultant, speaker and author on women and leadership.  A seasoned human capital consultant, Selena uses workplace culture assessments to help corporate clients be more inclusive and welcoming to women.  She’s also the author of two leadership books targeted at professional women – Pushback: How Smart Women Ask—and Stand Up—for What They Want (Jossey-Bass, 2012) and The Next Generation of Women Leaders (Praeger, 2009). Selena has been featured in the LA Times, Oprah.com, Todayshow.com, Forbes, and wrote an award-winning column on women for The Washington Post.

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