What you’re likely missing when onboarding folks to an established team
August 14, 2023
Many organizations focus on orienting new team members to the technical aspects of a job and their roles and responsibilities. That’s necessary.
Few organizations focus on intentionally bringing new teammates into the organization’s culture. Which is unfortunate, because that is game-changing.
Culture is the water we swim in—it’s often invisible. Culture shows up in these places:
- How people communicate with each other and whether those communications are healthy and productive.
- How people offer each other feedback and how that feedback is received.
- How people appreciate each other.
- How people deal with conflict, and whether conflict leads to stronger relationships or fractured communities.
Here are some tips on bringing new team members into an existing team:
- Make your team’s culture explicit. Culture can be codified in team norms, values, vision or mission statements, and other artifacts such as a Slack channel or a bulletin board. Make sure that what’s important in those artifacts is undeniably evident to new people. Name it, point it out.
- Don’t make assumptions that people will understand what you mean by any of your norms, values, statements, etc. For example, if a team norm is, “Take it to the source,” be sure there’s a discussion about what this means. Model it. Provide opportunities for “I do, we do, you do” practice.
- Assign a veteran team member to be a new team member’s buddy. Make sure you trust that veteran team member 100% and give them explicit instructions on what it means to be a buddy. This is a different role than a “mentor,” and the purpose is to bring someone into an organization’s culture.
- If/when new people veer from behaving in the way your team has agreed to behave, provide immediate, explicit feedback. This can sound like, “I want to offer some feedback. In our team meeting today, you made a comment about how the district never listens to teachers. This exacerbates an us-vs-them mindset which undermines our sense of efficacy. It also breaks our commitment to stay out of victim stories.” Be direct about expectations for communication from the start. It’s much more awkward to have to go back and clean up months of behaviors that don’t align with your team’s vision for who they want to be.
- Schedule more check-ins than you think you’ll need. This is the time to get to know someone and build a relationship, to tell stories about your organization and team, and to hear their emerging perspective on your organization and team.
There’s so much more I could say about effectively and efficiently onboarding new teammates, but I’ll stop here for now. Of course, The Art of Coaching Teams (the book and the workshop) are robust resources for you in all things team related.
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