How to Succeed in Your New Job: Group Anthropology Matters


When I started a new job and a new career at McKinsey years ago, I was worried and uncertain about how to find my way. Day One was overwhelming. Lots of the early days were. Add a crushing great economic recession that was taking place and it was a recipe for extreme anxiety. That experience helps me suggest how you can succeed in your new job.

Pay attention to interactions and relationships that might otherwise slip under your radar, and use these to create an office “Who’s Who” that takes you a step closer to understanding the culture you now inhabit. Here are the key things you need to be on the lookout for:

  • Groups within the company. Groups form within every culture, and an office is no exception. These groups are not necessarily established by organizational management, but frequently there is overlap between formal and informal groups. Whether formal or informal, all groups are an important part of any company’s cultural dynamic.
  • Beneficial groups. Some groups are good for you. Others are not. A good-for-you group might be the one that’s invested in opportunities for continuing education in your field. A not-so-good-for-you group might be the one composed of chronic complainers.
  • High-value groups. Some groups in a company are more valued than others. This is not usually overt or acknowledged. Instead, it’s something that just happens—to the extent that anything “just happens” in any organization—but their value is no less real.

Obviously, groups are made of individuals, and those individuals deserve your attention, too. Individual roles don’t always match what an organizational chart might lead you to believe, which makes first-hand observation especially important. Observe what’s going on in the office to find the answers to questions such as these:

  • Whose opinion is sought?
  • To whom do people bring their questions?
  • Whom do they turn to with problems?
  • Whom do they look to for leadership?
  • Who seems to have most contact with management?
  • Who is valued?
  • Who seems to be respected by other employees at all levels?

For many of these questions, the answer isn’t necessarily a single person. For example, upper management may bring


their concerns to one person, while subordinates may consult someone else. The difference can reveal something about the way things really work in an organization.

As time goes on, extend your explorations beyond your department. Visit other areas. Introduce yourself. It will seem natural, because you’re new. Don’t expect people to drop everything to chat, but some people will be approachable and even welcoming. If you’ll be interfacing with another department in the future, you can formalize things and ask for a brief meeting. However you handle it, you’ll learn something and you’ll become something more than “the new marketing associate.” You’ll have a new contact, and you’ll start to extend your reach within the organization.

Unlike an actual anthropologist in the field, you won’t have the luxury of being a mere observer for very long. You have to participate, but you shouldn’t rush in. You’re a stranger in a strange land. You have to learn more about the way the natives operate before you can develop effective relationships.

Once you start to understand the environment, you can, if necessary, adjust your own style to achieve a better “fit” with what’s going on around you.

If you need assistance navigating this new terrain or a leg up in landing that new position, we're here to help!


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