Patience

3 minutes

This is one of those posts I am writing purely because I find myself giving versions of this same advice time and again!
 
I’ve touched on the subject before; the importance of taking some time to observe when you first take on a new job or join a new team. Now I want to lay this out a little more specifically.
 
The problem that many of us have (yes, myself included) when we start a new job or join a new team is the desire to ‘prove’ yourself.  This comes from a good place, and is a natural human reaction to someone putting their faith and trust in you.
 
The phrase ‘a new broom sweeps clean’ shows us this isn’t even a new thing of our modern age. Its been with us since at least before the invention of the vacuum cleaner ;).  As I said, it is human nature.
 
When a new Supervisor, Manager or Director joins your company, you instinctively know that there will be changes coming.  This looks the same to teams and companies where we join in a new role too (yep, it works both ways!).  People will be subconsciously bracing themselves for the changes you feel compelled to make to prove you are worthy of the role.
 
I can not stress enough here that I am not being critical. Instead, I want to offer some advice, a friendly reminder, to all of us.  At some point in the future, almost everyone will be starting a new job, or joining a new team. This is the advice I keep giving 🙂  

Remember to be patient.

Try to observe and not interfere with (sorry, I mean ‘improve’ obviously 😉 ) the working practices in your new team for as long as you can.  
 
Then, wait and watch for longer.  
 
The bigger and more complex your ‘team’, the longer that period of observation should be.  To illustrate, if you are starting as a scrum master for a new team, your observing time should be at least 2 weeks.  If you can bear it, aim for 4 weeks.

This observation time has 2 main benefits.

  1. 50% of your initial assessments of what needs to be fixed will be wrong. Time will give you longer to assess which is which.
  2. Time lets the people you are joining become acclimatised to your presence before you change things.

50% of your initial assessments will be wrong.

To mangle the famous quote:  50% of your initial assessments of what needs to be fixed will be wrong.  Trouble is, you won’t know which 50%.   If you truly want to improve things, the best ROI is to study longer and act later, once you know more.  The longer you leave it the more you will know, however this graph has a long tail, so there is a pragmatic sweet spot we are aiming for here.

(Diagram)

The sooner you act, the more likely you are to be making a poor decision.  You are, after all, acting on incomplete information.  Ask questions if it looks like an easy change – your new team are not stupid, so if it were really THAT obvious, they’d have already done it.  There may be a really good reason it hasn’t been actioned before.

You are quite possibly the only person excited about your new role.

The people who hired you / decided to move you to the new team are hopeful you are as good as they think you are.  They have metaphorically lit the blue touch paper and have retired to safe distance to watch the show.  (If you are really lucky, you may have some idea of the success criteria they will be measuring you against in the coming weeks and months).  They are going to give you time, and you should take full advantage of it.

As I mentioned before, the people / team you are joining are….less excited.  There is likely some apprehension about the things you will be changing.  They do not yet know you, or how you work, and they sure don’t trust you yet.

Spend some time with your new team not doing anything, just observing how they work.  Be present to witness some of their daily challenges, victories over those challenges, and even some of their crash-and-burn moments.  If you can do all that you will better understand them.  More importantly, they will slowly become acclimatised to your presence.  You will see them relax, and accept you being there, with out always being on their best behaviour.

When you are ready to start introducing change, you can now do so more naturally, and in the moment.  If you phrase these as suggestions and inquiries, and ask for their advice on your ideas, you will grow trust exponentially faster too.

No matter how good your intentions, trying to ‘fix’ all the things in your first few days will only end in tears of frustration.  Probably yours to be honest.  (This is true even if you are lucky enough to get the right things and try to fix them in the right way).

Take-aways

So, here are my bullet point tips for a new role:

  1. Be understanding if your new team or people treat you warily.
  2. Be patient.
  3. If something looks like a ‘no-brainer’, ask a LOT of questions. The ‘no-brainer’ could well be you.
  4. Ask advice more often than you make a decision.
  5. When you do make a decision, build trust by following immediately with a (single sentence) explanation of why.

You don’t have to do all of these things – many people don’t do any of them.  I think it rather depends what sort of environment you are looking to build.

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