5 Strategies to Avoid Becoming the Illegitimate Team Member

By: | April 3, 2016

Your work team is one of the many temporary identity groups in your life. Just like any other identity group, your work team also has expectations, formal and informal rules, and Power Up and Power down dynamics. If current team members informally judge that you’re on the team by way of low standards (in their minds), then you might be a “them” and not even know it. But if they think you got the job “legitimately,” you’ll likely be accepted and supported as one of “us.” Your identity dimensions and demographics have a lot to do with this. Some of your team members might be resentful of your arrival; two common reasons related to your identity demographics are:

  • You fit into a demographic or identity category that’s deemed “underrepresented” in the organization
  • You were a member of a preferred network, such as the “good ole’ boys (girls),” or an alumnus of the “right” prep school, university, or MBA program

Once your colleagues lock in on a particular aspect of your identity as “the reason you were hired”—especially if that locked-in perspective comes with an adverse judgment that you’re less qualified or less deserving— it’s difficult for them to be fully open to connecting with you to accomplish your mutual goals. Some of the subtle and often unspoken thoughts about your hiring are likely to include:

  • Resentment and anger, because you took the job of someone who some team members thought, was more deserving
  • Resentment and anger that you got your job only because you were a member of a particular identity group or groups, or that you’re an undeserving beneficiary of diversity or affirmative action hiring
  • Frustration because you’re too young, and your hiring shows that the company is just trying to save money
  • Disappointment that you’re too old and will be a dinosaur when it comes to new technology
  • Resentment that you’re a woman and some team members don’t want to work for a woman
  • Discomfort because you’re disabled, and some team members aren’t comfortable with what they think are ways they’ll have to accommodate your disability, or the perceived costly budget add- on to accommodate you
  • Concern that you might be mentally unstable because you’re a veteran
  • Concern that your marital, parental, or family caretaking status will detract from your commitment to the team (and other team members will have to accommodate your scheduling needs)
  • Concern that your presence will make other team members and customers feel uncomfortable because you’re gay or lesbian
  • Concern that you come from an industry that’s so different from the one you’re entering that you’re unfamiliar with this new line of work and will need an excessively long learning curve before you’re productive.

How do you keep yourself or new team members from becoming a “them?” In the Age of MultiDentity, every aspect of an employee’s onboarding should be carefully managed to introduce new employees in ways that show the organization’s and the manager’s confidence in them. Here are five strategies to make the transition easier.

  1. Have that manager of the team make an unqualified statement of support about the skills and abilities (you) or the new team members bring to the table.
  2. Provide new team members with mentors or buddies who can help them understand the formal and informal organizational and team culture.
  3. Be proactive in identifying the ways in which you may need to adjust or flex your style to meet the new team member part way if their work style approach is different and vice versa.
  4. If you notice a new team member who is isolated from the team, be proactive to invite them into informal gatherings or assist them in making connections so they can begin to build a network.
  5. Check in with them from time to time to see how they’re making the adjustment.

In today’s polarized world, the amount of tension that may be present in your community and workplace across identity differences may increase. So it’s up to you and those who are capable, to step up to ensure that your work team is inclusive and productive.