Building Trust when joining a large project team - Hack for LA | Food Oasis

Food Oasis is a resource for locating food pantries and meal services for those experiencing food insecurity. It is a project of the Hack for LA Brigade. Resources can be found through the Food Oasis website and via an embed that can be added to another host website (see our embedded tool on Food Cycle LA). During the COVID pandemic, the nation saw an increase in people seeking food assistance for the first time. This made the work of Food Oasis even more important, and the volunteers working on the project were more dedicated than ever.

Joining the Team

When I joined Food Oasis in July, the team had 16 members: Developers, UX Designers and Researchers, and Product Managers. A few joined around the same time as I did, but many had been with the project for 6 months or longer (some since the project’s inception in 2019). Even though I had my Impact Sprints goals and the support system of Code for America, I knew I couldn’t just join the team and say, “I’m in charge, here’s what we are doing!” I had to learn the team culture, understand the team dynamics, and get to know the team members themselves.

Establishing Leadership

So how did I start leading the team? At first, I didn’t. After introducing myself, my role and the Impact Sprints, I spent the first few team meetings listening, observing and learning. I scheduled individual meetings with team members, to find out more about their roles and their ideas. I read through the issues on the Github kanban board, to understand what was being worked on and what was up next. I looked through the project’s Google Drive, and read through the documentation. I went through all the pages on the website and tested the features. I checked out the websites hosting our embedded tool to see how it worked on my different devices and on different operating systems.

Most importantly, I changed many of my assumptions and ideas about what I thought the project needed. Had I charged in and started pushing my ideas without taking these steps to really understand what was going on, I would have misjudged the team and the project. I would have spent time working on things that turned out to be unimportant. I would have moved things in a direction that they did not need to go in.

Challenges and the Path Forward

The challenge with taking the slow path is that many of my ideas are just now coming to fruition. However, taking this time was critical to picking the right ideas and developing the right strategies to move the project forward. It was also critical for learning from my fellow team members, tapping into their talents and earning their trust and support.

Our team has grown to 29 members. We are conducting UX research, redesigning website pages, and reaching out to potential partners. We are broadening the scope of what the project is and can be. We are making plans for the future of Food Oasis, in Los Angeles and beyond.


Joining a large team can be intimidating. Here’s what to keep in mind:

  • Take the time to get to know the project: what has been accomplished and where there is opportunity for improvement.
  • Get to know the team: schedule meetings with team leaders, and ask questions during the first few meetings.
  • Develop your own ideas for the project, but be prepared to adjust your plans once you get a sense of the team’s priorities and ambitions.
  • Find a way to show your skills and contribute to the project right away (I started by cleaning up the Kanban board and sharing workflow ideas.)

Related Impact Sprints Articles:

Successfully Engaging Volunteers in Complex Projects - Code for Hawaii: Hawaii Zoning Atlas

Managing Fast Paced Projects with Multiple Teams at Launch - Code for Boston

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