Fitting in at Work

Devashish Chakravarty        Print Edition: November 2011

Devashish Chakravarty
It's your first day at the new job. What you do now will determine your future with the firm. Get noticed for the right reasons and settling down will be easy. Draw attention for the wrong reasons and each day will be a burden. Just as important as your work is learning to adjust to the new workplace. So, how does one crack the culture code?

Start with building relationships. Begin with your team leader. Understand what his role is and what the team requires to achieve its goals. Learn how to fit in and what you can do to improve the picture.

Once you are confident of what your goals should be, discuss them. Use an official forum, such as the weekly team session, or schedule an individual meeting.

Determine the frequency and format of feedback required for each of your targets. If your boss needs a monthly feedback, make sure you discuss your progress fortnightly to avoid miscommunication. Learn to use the medium your manager prefers-mails, calls, messages or in person.

EXPERT TIP:Best behaviour, attitude at workplace

Next, establish relationships with your colleagues. Your internal clients, those to whom you are a client and people who share your targets are all important. It would be a good idea to learn about how they work. Make sure you join them during their lunch and coffee breaks. It's a great way to meet and interact with your colleagues.

EXPERT TIP:How to communicate well in office

Now get familiar with the key ingredients of what constitutes the unwritten office conduct. The first of these is the attitude to time. Are things meant to be precisely on time or approximately within a time frame? If the former is the case, schedule all your internal deadlines 15 minutes prior to the actual ones, including the time you show up for work. Also, understand how much value each person in the office gives to planning. This will determine the structure of your feedback and presentations to your team.

Tips to deal with major decisions at work
Look at communication next. Are people being addressed by their first names or designation? Are women addressed differently from men, clients from colleagues or vendors and superiors from subordinates? The use of first names are typically found in firms that have been influenced by international clients and associates but remember that it does not necessarily reflect all office culture.

Be judicious with language, especially the use of swear words or while sharing jokes. What may be routine in a media firm may be considered rude or even harassment in an educational institution. Similarly, do not react to what seems like a provocation until you are familiar with the context. If your co-workers use a lot of jargon, understand these terms quickly to fit in fast.

Figure out if people associate with each other only within the formal network or if they meet up in informal groups. Focus on the ones that affect your work or interest you. These groups will help you develop friends and mentors and will form the invaluable support system you need while you find your feet. Many of these groups could also be informal sources of information. Of course, you will need to decide how reliable the information is.

It is also important to focus on grooming and understanding the dress code. How rigidly do people adhere to the dress code? Does formal or informal attire dominate the workplace? Are there days and events that strictly require formalwear? All of this is significant.

Finally, seek to understand how performance is recognised at your workplace. Your manager, friends and the HR manual will help you understand whether rewards are individual or for the team and if they're monetary or recognition through awards and titles. Use this information to decide what is in your best interest and why your colleagues behave in a manner that you were not used to in your previous organisation.

Be more patient and less aggressive than your usual self while learning the ways of the new place and building relationships. Your brilliant new ideas are only as valuable as the trust you have gained. Seek to establish your reputation as a professional and to integrate with the team first.

Thereafter, use the most acceptable ways of giving your opinion. Even after you feel settled, it may be wise to avoid ideological, social, religious and political debates since the fallout is invariably negative. All of this might seem too onerous a task, but is important nonetheless. Besides, know that your new firm has already used the selection process to assess whether you are likely to fit in with the team.

The writer is CEO, Quetzal Verify, an HR solutions company run by IIM-Ahmedabad alumni.

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