For someone who routinely stands up in front of students and acts a little goofy to put them at ease, I’m not especially confident in meeting new people. Specifically, new colleagues. Specifically, new colleagues with whom I’ll be sharing an office for eight hours a day.
I could blame it on anxiety in the face of change and being out of my comfort zone, but that’s not helpful. We all have to operate outside our comfort zones sometimes. If we keep doing the same thing over and over again and never try anything new, it quickly gets boring! At least, it does for me.
So, when I’m out of my comfort zone, how do I manage? Well, I suck it up, for one thing. I know I’m going to have to do things I haven’t done before, and I refuse to let it stop me from pursuing interesting things. Part of this comes down to attitude, of course. And I’m lucky in that I’ve got very supportive friends in all of the places I’ve worked.
To make those friends though, I had to try and do something I hadn’t done before. I had to work in new places. I had to take on tasks I wasn’t always sure I’d be able to pull off, in an institution I didn’t really know.
So what’s the best approach when you’re faced with an entirely new team in an entirely new culture?
Questions. Lots and lots of questions. Yes, you might feel like the annoying newbie for quite some time, but as I tell my student callers, you don’t know what you don’t know. The only way to find out is to ask.
Who’s that? What does that acronym stand for? What do I do with this? Where are last year’s results in the shared drive? How do I order envelopes? Where’s the loo? Useful things to know.
My advice here might seem obvious, but if you’re anything like me when you start a new job you’re eager to get going! You want to get your teeth into whatever programme you’re managing, you want to actually start doing. It’s easy to get lost in files and documents as you try and figure out where the institution’s been, where it’s at now, and where it’s going. Your best resources are always going to be the people around you – they’re the ones who’ve seen it all before, after all!
So be curious. Go for a wander around campus. Schedule meetings with your new team and ask about what they do and the systems they use. Have coffee, or lunch, or ask them if they can give you a few minutes just to explain this weird thing you’ve found on the database. The only way to pick up information is to ask and to listen. And it seems silly for me to say this as a fundraiser, but don’t be afraid to ask – there’s no such thing as a stupid question. Just something you didn’t know you didn’t know.
Oh, and if you can, bring cake.