As practitioners we all have widely varying skillsets, use many tools, and have wildly different personalities. This makes it difficult to plug and play. It’s not because we aren’t all capable of producing the same quality of work, but because of the difficulty of finding that groove to get there. As I prepare to embark on a new journey with Sparkbox, I wanted to reflect on overcoming some challenges I’ve discovered when working with new teammates. Collaborating alongside new people is both exciting and difficult, but there are some things we can do to help smooth the transition.
Working closely with my teammates is something that is very near and dear to my heart. I owe everything I’ve learned in recent years to the people who have been by my side, making these things with me. I 100% believe that you are only as smart as the people you surround yourself with, so I really like to grow close to these amazingly smart people. I’ve been fortunate enough to build some strong connections to colleagues who are now some of my closest friends. Inevitably, when I feel there’s a disconnect between myself and a teammate—I take it to heart, like anyone that feels distance in any capacity of relationship. While the work usually doesn’t suffer, we all know deep down that it isn’t the most excellent job we know it could be. We have to smooth out the bumps and connect for the health of the project.
How do we find our groove?
Just like we pluck safety pins into the back of a spotty modem, we’re going to have to call a hard reset on everything. It’s important to recognize that what’s currently in place is inherently going to have to change, because the people are changing. I’ve made the mistake of holding onto an old process that worked with a specific set of people, and tried to shoehorn new teammates into that process. But we’re special snowflakes. What worked with one group of people won’t work with another, even if we all have the same discipline or title. We all have to start fresh, with new ideas, and new processes.
In with the new strengths
Luckily, with new people comes new strengths! As I mentioned, everyone has varied skillsets and tools. At the beginning of your new team’s engagement, ask everyone what their preferences are, where do they want to grow, what’s worked for them in the past. Bringing these other experiences and recognizing how everyone works will help you craft your new formula. It will also help you clearly define your roles, and allow your teammates to empower each other where they want to grow.
We know that communication is key, but it’s hard to establish open communication with new people. Just like getting to know anyone, it takes time and dedication from all parties. Ask everyone out to a team lunch or happy hour. Just do something that allows you to share a memorable experience, or have some inside jokes that you all feel connected to. Nothing really beats just spending some non-work time together and getting to know each other on a personal level. I’m a BIG FAN of some super cheesy family bonding type stuff. You know… like matching tshirts, road trips, and dorky nicknames. Those actually happened, and it actually helped.
Energy and moods are contagious. If you’re enthusiastic about your project, that enthusiasm carries through in your work and ultimately into your teammates’ work as well. Bringing enthusiasm to your process and projects is a great way to try and get everyone on the same page. I work best when I know that my teammates are feeling good about our upcoming tasks and deliverables. Be encouraging and be your team’s cheerleader; positive energy goes a long way.
Build Something from the Ground Up
This may seem “duh”—but there’s a good chance that a team shuffle happens mid-project. It’s pretty hard to find a groove when not everyone feels ownership from the beginning. Even if it’s a small-scale open source tool or some sort of internal project, just find something that you all can have creative control over from start to finish. It’s a great way to test everything mentioned above, and through trial and error find what does and doesn’t work.