Imagine that you have just joined a new team and have been invited to a sync-up meeting. The members are discussing work that you are not yet acquainted with, and you find yourself falling behind in the conversation. You can speak up and ask, but you don't even know where to start with your questions. What do you do?

This situation happens all the time to employees joining a new team. This week's article addresses this problem and gives advice on how you can overcome this initial knowledge hurdle.

First, a general question: why should you listen in on meetings that concern the work of others, but not yours?

1. Understanding what your coworkers are doing allows you to be a better team player.

Each team member may be working on his or her individual tasks, but these tasks come together in driving forward an overarching project. It's important to have a holistic view of the work -- knowing what each member is doing, the context of individual tasks, and how everyone's work connects in the big picture. With this perspective, you are able to make suggestions to others, find inefficiencies, and introduce new ideas. It'll allow you to make bigger advances in your work, which are noted in promotion reviews and performance evaluations.

2. It allows you to make effective decisions and introduce new ideas early on.

It's very easy to just zone out during a meeting that discusses the work of others. But by doing that, you miss out on the chance to offer your unique voice. In big decisions, a diverse member can offer some of the most important insights, and the only way that you can do that is by being aware of the big picture.

In addition, if you are a manager, facilitating this kind of inclusive environment is a great way to boost innovation in your team.

3. It might come up later.

Even if another person's work is only tangentially related to yours, it may come up and be important to you in the future. If you know the range of work in your team, you will know where to find the right expertise. This can help you delegate, find assistance, and ask the right questions when faced with difficult challenges in the future.

So, how can a new employee take initiative and understand the work that another team is doing? We've listed some tips below:

Tip 1: Identify what kind of information is discussed in the meeting beforehand, and ask about things you may not know in advance. Some good things to ask about are:

  • What is on the agenda?
  • Are there any codenames or keywords that I should know about?
  • What is the main objective of the meeting?

By doing some research beforehand, you can prime yourself for what's about to happen and be ready to ask the right questions.

Tip 2: If it exists, poke around some documentation relevant to the agenda items. This can help provide more expansion to the meeting preparation discussed above.

Tip 3: Enter the meeting with a notebook. It's easy to zone out when you aren't following along. So, when that happens write down the things that you don't understand. This will keep you focused and also notes points of confusion, making the meeting follow-up period afterwards more efficient. You can also write down the names of the people who were talking, so that you know who to approach after the meeting with your questions.

Tip 4: Ask questions. If you are worried about being intrusive, you can ask at the beginning of the meeting if it's okay for you to ask questions throughout. Small questions like definitions are usually fine, but larger conceptual questions can disturb the flow of the meeting, and may be better dealt with in a follow-up. However, be sure to also use your best judgement in these situations, as it depends from case to case.

Tip 5: As the meeting goes on, focus on the high level idea. Sometimes, the team might delve into some technical detail that does not relate to you, and it’s okay if you don't understand it. Rather than trying to grasp the detail, think about it in a high-level context of the overarching meeting idea.

Tip 6: Follow-up afterward to enforce a solid understanding. With notes, you will have a list of the specific concepts that you didn't understand, as well as the speakers who discussed them. You can have separate offline one-on-one discussions to talk more about the meeting, and develop a stronger understanding of the conversation.

Tip 7: Make connections with how the conversation relates to your work. Even if it's something completely different, connecting the dots to the overarching team goal is a great skill to have, and will allow you to reap the benefits described earlier. In addition, perhaps with this meeting you can open yourself to new perspectives and ideas in your own work.

All in all, it's very easy to just zone out when being stuck in one of these meetings. But acting differently, taking initiative, and making an effort to understand what kind of work others are doing in the team can be a great help.

Thank you for checking the second article in our β€œBack to the Basics” series. Subscribe below if you would like weekly meeting insights delivered straight to your inbox!