A Little More Normalcy

Not that anything in the world is very normal. Honestly, on the whole, I am not sure that is a bad thing. Change is hard anytime it happens. When the change is sudden and large, it is even more difficult. Change is another word for opportunity, if we will look forward rather than back.

Recently I was talking with colleagues (by Zoom, of course) and we were discussing the changes the pandemic has brought to how work happens. For example, even when people can return to the workplace, many businesses may decide to sanction remote work because they have found their employees are more productive, less stressed, and happier working remotely. Of course, that is not true for everyone and not every employee or company will find the changes to be positive. I do believe we are more likely to seize the opportunity and benefits of change if we can look forward to how we can do things better than if we keep wishing and hoping we can just go back to “normal.”

Today I’m running piece on teamwork I hope you find useful. It addresses the challenge of integrating new members into a team, including some adaptation for our current state of pandemic living and working virtually.


Welcoming and Integrating New Team Members

My first job was at a local newspaper and print shop. It was in the same very small town I grew up in and I already knew the three other people who worked there. However, that did not make it any easier. I did not know them in the context of their professional work…only as acquaintances in the community. When I arrived on my first day of work, I was nervous, unsure of myself, and just a little scared. 

  • What if I could not learn how to use a light board or operate a printing press? 
  • What if I made a mistake, how would the boss react? 
  • What if I did not understand something, who would I ask and would it even be okay that I asked? 
  • What if I did not fit in?
  • What if…what if…what it…

Later in my career I would often experience the “new hire” experience from the perspective of an existing team member, except the “what if” questions were a little different. 

  • What if the new person cannot learn their job? 
  • What if they make a serious mistake? 
  • What if the new hire does not understand the work we do? 
  • What if the new person does not fit in? 

When a new person joins a team, there are always “what ifs” and everyone has them. For this reason it is important we do everything we can to make the process of change in our teams smooth and easy for everyone. 

Teams change. Promotions, different opportunities, retirements and other individual changes means our team will need to change as well. Team growth also means team changes. That’s just how it is in organizational life. 

In the 1960’s a researcher named Bruce Tuckman came up with a simple way to describe team development. It has been around a while but it is still widely regarded as very useful for helping us understand team behavior. It is known as Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development and you may have heard of it already. The four original stages are forming, storming, norming, and performing. 

Performing is the stage every team aspires to reach. Performing is when teams are working together like a well rehearsed dance troupe. However, when team membership changes at this stage, the team will revert back to the earliest stage of development – forming – when the new team member arrives. The forming stage is when the “what ifs” appear again for everyone – the new team member and the existing team members, too. 

To successfully move through the forming stage toward performing it is important for team leaders and their teams to have a plan for integrating new members.

The plan can be built around three phases in the hiring and on-boarding process. 

  • The first is the period of recruiting and interviewing. 
  • The second is after hiring and before the new team member begins. 
  • The third is from the first day the new team member joins the team and beyond. 

I want to take a closer look at making a plan with you but, first, I need to offer this caveat. Organizations have specific policies and protocols they must follow when hiring new people, or promoting and moving people within, to comply with the law. Therefore, the suggestions I am going to offer here should be considered within the scope of the required law. Whenever and wherever possible, I hope these suggestions will be considered and then implemented. 

Recruiting and Interviewing Phase

First, let’s take a look at a couple of ways to successfully integrate new team members during the recruiting and interview phase. 

Whenever possible, invite team members to recommend people to interview for the open position. Recommendations could include people who are outside of the organization or within the organization. Current team members are already invested in the success of their team. They know better than anyone what it will take to be a successful team member. They are more likely to recommend people who they believe will be a contributing, successful member of the team. 

Especially when the field of candidates have been narrowed to the finalists, have an informal team interview. This can be done by bringing the whole team together with the candidate or having the candidate meet one-on-one with each current team member. Several positive things are accomplished by having a team interview. One is that it will deepen a sense of responsibility toward and ownership of the team by current members. Another is that it will help the team form a consensus agreement on which candidate will be a better fit. Finally, should the candidate be hired, it will have already started the process of relationship building which is so important during the forming stage of a new team. 

The team interview is also important for the candidate. By meeting with the team the candidate gets a glimpse of its culture in action. Just as the team can assess whether the candidate is a good fit, the candidate can assess fit for themselves. 

I remember a time when I was a candidate for a position in which I would be an associate director working with the executive director and as a member of the leadership team. Everything went very well in the process and I really liked the organization and was eager to say yes if the offer was made. Then I met with the team I would be working with. Midway through the team interview I realized I would not be a good fit with them. I was deeply disappointed but knew it would be a mistake if I were to join them. Despite the attraction I felt toward the organization, I knew it would not be long before I would regret joining them and I knew they would soon come to regret it, too. 

Preparing for the First Day

The second phase in the hiring process, between the hiring and the new hires first day, offers another opportunity to integrate the new team member. Here are four things you can do to prepare your team to welcome the new member.

  1. Make Some Noise! Let everyone on the team and in your organization know about the new addition. Share a photo of the team member and a short bio (no, not a resume, a bio) with the team. I also recommend you share it with the whole organization. Give people a face to connect with the name, let them know the person’s start date, the location they will be working, and encourage them to “surprise” them by greeting and welcoming them by name. Of course the surprise greeting may have to be by email and that is okay.
  2. Prepare to connect them virtually to their team from day one. This is particularly important during times, like the COVID-19 pandemic, when people may not be working in office environments face-to-face. Typically, it is the first day when new hires receive their email and log-in information. Still plan to do that but make sure the new team member really DOES have their email ready on the first day. However, distribute their email in advance to other team members and encourage them to prepare an introductory email (e.g., their own photo and bio and a word of welcome) that they can send to the new team member on Day 1. 
  3. Put together a welcome package. A terrific team activity is to put together a welcome package for the new team member. Make it practical (e.g., pens, notebook, Kleenex, hand sanitizer, etc.), make it fun (e.g., candy, gum, a toy), and make it light (e.g., a clown nose, a silly hat, or something “funny” you think they will “need” in their new position). More than anything else, the welcome package needs to be the team’s personal expression of excitement about and appreciation of the new team member. Make sure the welcome package is on the new team members desk the first day. Of course, if the person is working remotely, make sure it is dropped off or received on their first day. 
  4. Be ready for the new team member before their first day. Nothing feels more inclusive than feeling like you were expected. I remember my first day in a new position that I was very excited to be filling. I could not wait to get started! My first day was a let down though. I was assigned an office and a computer that had not been cleaned. The prior occupant liked to eat at the desk and the computer keyboard and desktop were covered in crumbs. Even the office chair had food stains and crumbs on it. I did not feel comfortable starting my day without giving everything a thorough cleaning. Though someone had hung a welcome sign on my door, I really wondered if anyone really cared that I was there. Whether the person is working on site or remotely, it is important to make sure everything is ready for the new team member on Day 1. 

From the First Day 

The third phase begins on the new team member’s first day. The ideas here not only help integrate the new team member but also help build and maintain a sense of teamwork and team identity. 

  • Have a team social to welcome new members (while social distancing): COVID-19 makes it challenging to socialize physically in the same space. However social interaction among team members is still important to integrating new team members. Until you can physically meet up in a social setting again, set up a virtual team meet up for the purpose of introducing and getting to know new team members and each other better. Occasional but regular virtual social gatherings will help maintain a sense of team identity and strengthen teamwork. Just make sure you keep the social meet ups social, and the work meetings work. 
  • Decode the team and organizational language. When you join a team or organization that uses jargon or lots of acronyms it can feel like you need to learn another language just to communicate. Give new team members a head start by familiarizing them with terms, language, jargon, inside jokes, and acronyms the team or organization frequently uses. It could even be a fun team-building activity to work together to create a “dictionary” of such “coded” communication for new team members. 
  • Pair them up with a colleague for support, insight, and learning. This could be a mentor or another team member they need to “shadow” to learn the job. However, it could also be a friendly presence on the team who will help and support the new team member through the process of joining with the team. At a time such as this, in the midst of a pandemic, pairing up will need to happen intentionally but virtually. In a virtual environment it will wise for the veteran team member to make the first move to engage the new team member to start the supporting relationship.
  • Acquaint them with your system and its leaders. More than giving the new team member an organizational chart, help them understand how things are supposed to work (the formal system) and how things actually work (the culture). Personally introduce them to the system leaders. Avoid telling them to “Just go talk to Carlos” or “See the IT coordinator.” Remember, they may not know who Carlos or the IT coordinator is and what they should talk to them about…even if Carlos is the IT coordinator. Acquainting them with your system means teaching them how to get copies made and where to find supplies. It also means introducing them to the Executive Director or CEO and other leaders. While working remotely an email introduction can be used to connect new team members with system leaders.
  • Have serious fun. Integrating a new team member can and should be fun for everyone. Having fun while doing serious work is important for bonding, camaraderie, and moving back to high performance as a team. Whenever and however possible, make welcoming and integrating a new team member an enjoyable experience. 

One last thing. Through all three phases it is important for team leaders to communicate openness to feedback and a willingness to improve the process. One way to do this is to simply ask team members, including the new team member, to suggest ways to improve the process. My own preference is to ask people to tell me how to make something better rather than to tell me about its problems. This appreciative approach ensures the ideas and suggestions I receive are actionable.

Remember, teams change. A change in team membership requires us to step back to an earlier forming stage. It may be tempting to feel discouraged by this slight step back. However, it also presents an opportunity to welcome and integrate a new team member who can help the team attain an even higher level of performance in the future. 


Chickenman – Episode 96 – Only 1 Episode Remaining!

Illogically, Chickenman wreaks havoc on a movie set.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

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