It doesn’t matter if you’re a freelancer or a new full-time employee: finding yourself in a new environment and joining up with an established team can be a challenge —especially if, like many creatives, you don’t consider yourself a “people person.” Some people live for meeting new colleagues and eagerly throw themselves into a new work dynamic, while others (like myself)…well, you may never relish it, but you can coach yourself into being a valuable team player, right from the start.
1. Make a Good First Impression
Go in looking professional and appropriate. (Truth be told, I think it’s a good idea to err on the slightly-more-professional-looking side for the first week.) Don’t go out of your way to solicit conversations, but be polite, forthcoming, and attentive. It doesn’t hurt to have your “elevator pitch” rehearsed, since you may be asked about your qualifications or what you can bring to the team.
2. Get to Know the Team
On your first day you’ll probably meet a lot of people – and then promptly forget all of their names. You may feel like a nerd, but there’s nothing wrong with carrying around a small pad to jot notes down on. Try to learn the essentials, such as where they sit, what hours they work, contact info, if they prefer phone calls to email, etc..
3. Roles and Responsibilities
Getting acquainted also means understanding roles within the team: finding out who does what, and when and why you’ll work with them. It’s especially important to find out who the point-person is: the person you can go to with questions about the job, team, process or project. This is usually a project manager/coordinator or even a traffic manager.
4. Don’t Try Too Hard to Fit In
I’ll just come right out and say it: it can feel lonely being the new freelancer on a team, but you’re not there to make friends. Initially, keep conversations professional. Naturally, as people warm up to you, there will be plenty of opportunity for interpersonal relating, water-cooler conversations, and coffee runs. But during the first few weeks when you should be establishing that you’re a competent member of their team, just chill and focus on the work.
5. Ask as Many Questions as You Need to
Even if you’re brought in for having special expertise in a design program, you have a background in a specific industry, or you’ve even worked with the client before, you won’t know everything about the assignment—nor should you be expected to. Consider your teammates the experts, and ask about anything you don’t understand or need clarification on. Asking questions is a good way to show that you’re engaged, and it can make people feel respected. Most importantly, having the right information is what will help you do your best work.
6. Be Flexible
Being part of a team means other people have input, too. Look at it like this: the fact that you were brought on means your supervisor already recognizes your skills and creativity. Give other people credit for their good ideas, and let them have input on yours.
It’s great to advocate for your ideas – especially if you have facts, experience, or research that supports them – but get used to letting go. No matter how much a rockstar you are, it’s going to happen a lot during your career, so if you can do it with grace and quickness, you (and your work) will be better for it.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Set Your Own Boundaries
All those things you have to respect about your coworkers—they should respect about you, too. You may not always be able to say, “I won’t take phone calls or answer emails after 7 p.m.,” but you should be able to have lunch, take breaks, and enjoy a working environment that doesn’t negatively affect your health or your ability to do your job.
As a freelancer, you may think you have to “suck it up” and accept it when people ignore you or brusquely give you orders. Being slightly rude is one thing, but it’s never OK for someone to yell at you, threaten you, demean you, or otherwise treat you badly. If this happens, talk to your supervisor. Or if it IS your supervisor, talk to your recruiter or rep.
Don’t forget to focus on the job!
It’s true that working in advertising and marketing can feel like a popularity contest, but, in my experience, the best way to quickly become a valued team member is to show up every day and do your very best work. Don’t worry about trying to make people like you — just keep solving their professional problems and making the company look good, and then the trust and the relationships will follow.
Lisa is a seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.