How To Be The Newcomer To An Established Group

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A few weeks ago, 3 astronauts arrived at the International Space Station, joining a crew that was already there, and doubling the size of the ISS population.  The crew that was on the station had to somehow accommodate and assimilate these three new people, so they could all perform their individual tasks and still function as a cohesive crew to maintain the station. Their experience is not unique. Many people struggle to join teams or a group of existing friends every day. Whether it’s a school clique or your husband’s old college buddies, integrating yourself in a team is easier than it may seem.

First, you need to do some reconnaissance. Is the group open or closed? In family therapy, families are referred to as open or closed systems. This is determined by things like boundaries, how many secrets the group shares, and the willingness of the family members to allow outsiders in. The last part is measured by looking at the members of the system. Who was the last one in? How integrated are they in the group?

Sometimes, groups form quickly and judging the openness is tougher to do because there are no new members or obvious signs of how they work with new people. In these cases, it is important to ingratiate yourself with someone in the group. In cases where you are in a relationship with a group member, this is easily done.

Being included in the group holds three possibilities, 1) you become a member of an established group and enjoy the privileges that come with that; 2) you become an adjunct member of the group and take on a second-tier position and are limited in which privileges you enjoy; 3) you are a satellite member of the group and can attend functions but do not get any privileges of the group and are not considered members.

If you are allowed to be with the group, make sure that your participation is noted. Groups tend to have their own language and history.

A good way to become knowledgeable about this part of the group is ask for them to share their story. This serves two purposes: 1) Learning the backstory to inside jokes; 2) Ingratiating yourself by acknowledging that the history of the group is important. From this, you are now able to share the stories and even participate in the language that is shared by the group.

Maintaining your position in a group is a responsibility. As a new member, your position in a group is tenuous and you need to “show up” and participate. If you are joining a work team, this is easily done by contributing to work projects, being responsible and doing your part to make the team look good.

In a group of friends, this is a similar undertaking that will also require contacting group members and trying to deepen relationships with the members of the group who will then want you around. You also need to remember that there is no need to be close to everyone in a group. There are levels of relationship in every group and each person relates differently. Some groups consist of several dyads and triads banded together as a whole group through shared experience.

Ultimately, how you act or what you are willing to do depends on your goal. Some groups are necessary for your very livelihood. In the case of the ISS crew or even a work team, learning to assimilate into a group is a valuable skill. Some groups, like a group of college friends or a book club, may not be working at solving world hunger but their bond and friendship is invaluable. Then again, if you are joining the group in hopes to be close to a loved one, that may be the only relationship you need.