For interim professionals, building trust with a client team is essential.

Joining an established team and getting acquainted with a new set of colleagues is always a delicate task. And when you’re an interim professional, it’s part of every project. Interim professionals often work with clients onsite for months, so building trust with new teams quickly at each engagement is a must.

5 tips for integrating into a new client team

Here are five tips to help you transition to a new team and start out strong with your client. 

1  Do your homework 

It might seem obvious, but before you begin an interview or set foot in an organization, do some research. What does the company do? How is the team structured? What’s happening in their industry? Are there any current events that may impact (or necessitate) your role? 

Building trust is easier when you’re informed. When you know about the organization, it’s easier to describe how your past experience is relevant to the client’s current situation. Having this context—such as a recent merger or executive team shakeup—gives you insight into the client’s mindset, enabling you to accurately address their challenges and concerns. 

2 Set expectations early 

Start the engagement by meeting with your key client sponsor to outline (or confirm) how you will work together. Ask questions about the following: 

  • The work: What will you do (and how will you do it?) What does success mean? What internal processes should you be aware of? Who are the key stakeholders on the team? What format works best for deliverables?
  • Communications: What is the best way to communicate most effectively with the sponsor and the client team? How often should there be status updates? Does the team communicate through email, Slack, etc.? When should you schedule in-person meetings?
  • Corporate culture: How should you act in the client’s environment? What are normal office hours? Should you attend staff meetings?

When the conversation is complete, send a summary to your client to ensure everyone is clear on what’s expected, and follow up with any clarifications. 

3 Designate time to meet the team 

Although you’ll meet people organically while working on a project, you’ll be most successful if you get familiar with the key players on the client team early. Building connections and confidence in your work early makes it easier for you and the team. During the introduction phase: 

  • Be prepared for each meeting. When possible, take some time to learn about the primary stakeholders before you meet them. Ask your client sponsor about each person’s role, check LinkedIn, etc. That will help you and the stakeholder get the most out of the meeting.
  • Use tools to remember each person. When you’re meeting lots of people in a short period of time, help yourself out by taking notes. Write down each person’s name, position, and any project-relevant information. Try to find something in common with each person. A personal association helps you remember the person better and gives you something to talk about if you meet in the elevator later. 
  • Be aware that people may have different reactions to you. As an interim professional, you’re there to make things better, but not everybody will welcome you with open arms. While some people will be thankful for your assistance, others might feel uncomfortable or embarrassed that they need your help. Regardless, make sure each person feels heard, valued and respected.
  • Ask permission to contact people in the future. Asking a simple question such as, “Could I contact you if I have questions?” is a great way to build trust and connection. Most importantly, it tells the person that you value what they have to say. It also creates an opening to learn about each person’s communications preferences and availability. 

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4 Don’t be afraid to ask questions 

You’re smart and experienced. That’s why the client wants you on their team. But don’t let that be a barrier to your curiosity. At a new organization, there’s a lot to learn. Asking questions—instead of guessing or making assumptions—saves time and leads to more successful projects. 

You can get your questions answered and still look smart by asking purposeful questions. Before you ask, think about: 

  • What you’re asking for: Are you looking for information, advice, feedback, assistance, or permission? 
  • How to format the question: Avoid confusion by asking several short, clear questions instead of a single, multifaceted or complicated question. 
  • Who to ask: For critical questions, don’t just go to the easiest resource, go to the right person—even if you might feel awkward doing it.
  • How long the conversation will take: Do you have a simple question you can ask ad-hoc or via email? Is scheduling a meeting required? Be respectful of people’s time. 

5 Be comfortable with your "outsider" status 

Different teams treat interim professionals in different ways. Sometimes you’re treated like part of the family and sometimes you’re treated like an intruder. If you wind up in the second situation, remember that being an outsider is your strength, not your weakness. You were brought in to provide an outside opinion (and rising above company politics is a perk of interim work). 

In any engagement, your client “coworkers” will play a role in the project. Creating a strategy for integrating with the team that focuses on mutual respect and openness facilitates success. 

Interested in learning more about interim work at Korn Ferry?

Join the Interim Network or review available jobs today.