The professional world sometimes forces us to work together with coworkers we may not know. Those situations are fantastic opportunities to learn the ins and outs of another department and diversify your own professional experiences, but they can also be stressful, especially if you aren’t sure how to work together on a complex project.
The teamwork rhythm you’re used to may not be applicable in this new situation, and you may have significantly more or less expertise than your new teammate. The balance will feel off at first, but if you make a concentrated effort to cultivating a relationship built on cooperation, you should have no problem completing your tasks together.
Try using these tips when working with someone new, and maximize your chances of successful, productive teamwork.
1. Start Things Right
Before you start working together, you need to introduce yourself and work together to make a plan. The only way you’re going to work well together is if you both agree to a system from the get-go. Simply divvying up tasks over an email is simply not enough.
Schedule a time that works for both of you to hammer out a system–whether that means splitting the individual tasks down the middle and coming together at the end, or setting aside time each day to work collaboratively on tasks. Both of you need to agree to the general outline you put together, and that includes a mutual timeline. Set clear expectations about how you expect to work together, and set an atmosphere of respect and appreciation.
2. Be Open About How You Work Best
You might be tempted to try and accommodate the other’s person’s work style at the cost of your own, but that isn’t always the most productive system. Your work preferences are important, and you need to express those openly. For example, if you strongly prefer communicating via email over phone or face-to-face meetings, don’t be afraid to express that. Bringing up your preferences isn’t necessarily a demand that they must be met, but your partner can’t hope to understand your strengths and weaknesses if you don’t present them.
Likewise, if there are areas where you aren’t comfortable working or areas where you don’t have much expertise, be open about it–it isn’t an admission of weakness so much as it is an acknowledgment that an alternative work system would be more advantageous.
3. Listen to How They Work Best
The flip side is you must actively learn how your coworker works best, and do what you can to accommodate those preferences, strengths, and weaknesses. Don’t interrogate them, but feel free to ask questions about what they’ve found to be helpful and unhelpful in their past teamwork assignments.
You shouldn’t expect your coworker to bend over backward to accommodate your preferences, and likewise, you don’t have to go out of your way to accommodate theirs. But it is important that you acknowledge these qualities, and work together to find a compromise. For example, if one of you prefers an even split of tasks and the other prefers collaborative work on each of them, consider doing the first half of the project one way and the second half of the project the other way.
4. Spend Some Time Together
One of the best ways to improve your teamwork skills is to spend some personal time with the other party. This is especially helpful if you’re completely unfamiliar with the other person. You don’t necessarily have to be friends, but office environments can prevent people from opening up, and it’s much easier to work with someone if you already have a connection to them.
Before you get too deep into your project, make plans to get coffee before work or lunch during a break in the day. You’ll see a side of your coworker you won’t ever see in the office, and you might learn something about him/her that makes it easier to get along in a working environment.
5. Manage Your Reactions
If you’re working with someone unfamiliar, you might be more sensitive to various obstacles and challenges that come up. For example, if your coworker makes a mistake or forgets about a specific task, it’s far easier to lose your cool with someone you don’t know than with someone you do.
Before you react to anything surprising, take a step back. It’s important to manage your reactions and logically assess the situation before you respond. Otherwise, you could make a bad impression and introduce tension and resentment unnecessarily into your working relationship.
If working from a distance, avoid drafting an email until the dust has settled. If you’re working face to face, it might be worth your time to step away from the workspace and take a deep breath before you bring up your thoughts on the matter.