A new team member is like a new organ in your body

Welcoming a new member into a teamEvery manager knows that process of resourcing is a never-ending story. Constantly “fighting” for headcount, acquiring approvals, justifying the needs, not to mention recruiting, selection and interviewing are extremely time and effort consuming endeavors. But what if after all this the new team member is unable to find his or her place in the team, cannot “blend in” and deliver what’s expected? Did we somehow mess up the recruiting process? Or maybe it’s something else?Think about your team as a human body, and it all becomes clear.

Properly welcoming a new member into a team is crucial for successful integration, and the frequent tendency to pay little attention to this particular step can derail the whole enterprise of team effort. Having a new team member is not unlike implanting a new organ into a body or even a birth of a new child. It is a very joyful and happy event, though at the same time it disrupts every single aspect of our life and doesn’t leave anything unchanged. There are several perspectives to be considered by managers to ensure a smooth fusion: how it affects the team, progressive transformation of a new employee into a full team member and his or her connection to environment.

Let’s start with the team. Fear has big eyes – new employee could be easily misconstrued by existing employees as a threat. If the role was not filled for a while, it does not necessarily mean the duties were not performed. Many times the rest of the team shares the burden, therefore once a new member assumes the position it is important to have an official transfer of responsibilities back to position holder. It may sound trivial, however I’d like to stress out that this is not a one-time activity, like introduction of the new member on first team meeting. This is a distinctive process and its main goal – to successfully integrate the new member into the team, has to be explicitly and repeatedly declared. It has to be explained and verified on various occasions (for example on a team meetings and 1:1’s), explicitly specifying how it is going to affect each and every one on the team, not leaving anything to guessing or personal interpretation. During this process the main objective is to make sure that communication in the team is flawless. Team has to feel safe embracing a new member. The key to encouraging the team to share information as much as possible is hidden in emphasizing that only this way the new team member will be able to start “repaying” (removing additional workload, enhancing team’s performance etc.) for all the credit the team has given him.

Now that we know how to approach an existing team let’s look at our new guy. Imagine you are at the beach, the sun is high, the water is invitingly warm, or at least you think so. Until you dab into it, you won’t know for sure. And even then, we need time to adjust body’s temperature to fully enjoy the experience. Even though you’ll be filling uncomfortable until you fully adjust, your expectations will keep you going. A new place is almost the same. Starting in a new position, we know that it will take time to blend in so we willingly agree to a certain period of time to experience some stress and discomfort. But what if the time goes by and the discomfort doesn’t disappear? Also, don’t forget that contrary to what you may think it is not only the organization who is observing. A new person is also looking at the new place, maybe wondering if he made the right choice, as we all tend to compare to what we are familiar with. In other words, there is a “probation” period in which critical things must happen between the organization and the new employee, otherwise the person will decide to leave and that would be only a matter of time. Manager needs to bring the situation to a place where a new employee stops feeling as “new” and starts functioning as inherent part of the team.

So what are those critical things? First of all, like after a surgery to implant a new organ, make sure you are checking the pulse (and every other analyses) more often than you would in a regular situation. Just by verifying more frequently if everything is OK, even by asking this directly, you’ll be able to navigate the situation. Check out on your new employee: are there any logistical problems, how was the training? Take a moment off your busy schedule to demonstrate the fact that people matter in this team. This can really come in handy very soon. Secondly, know the milestones and the parameters of “job” being done properly and provide directions accordingly. Clearly articulated expectations will spare both parties from disillusioning further down the road. Another important part of mutual expectations is communicating the timeline of grace period, which has to be adjusted depending on job’s complexity and personal skills. Third and last one is providing a timely feedback. It is always important, but at the beginning it’s critical. Every company has its standards that are not necessarily understood by new employees. It is essential not to leave the person in the darkness to wonder about his performance and provide feedback and validation of his actions as soon as possible.

So, the team is appeased, the new guy is doing well. Only one thing left to deal with. And that is the connection of the new employee to environment – to the rest of the organization. A simple step of opening the doors, introducing and acknowledging the new member to other teams will remove the invisible wall that the person will have to get through on his own otherwise. It may sound trivial for you, but you are already in. Some organizations are harder to navigate through than others. By making sure that all important connections to key people are established and by educating the new employee on all major processes you will remove many obstacles even before they arise. Once again, it is all about communication and its channels. By providing the new member with exposure and access to right resources you will allow solid connection with surroundings.

Well, there still would be a lot of pressure on the new guy, but this is where you come in and MANAGE the process to ensure desired results. As I said before, as long as the person knows the stress is temporary, there is a progress, and if you both move in the right direction, all the efforts will pay off.

2 thoughts on “A new team member is like a new organ in your body

  1. Anya, congrats for the bold undertaking!
    As a “new organ” for about 3 months I would say – seems serious!
    good luck!

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