Welcoming a new team member

goodbyeYou have an excellent team and everything is moving smoothly toward your annual goals. Then a team member gets an unexpected promotion and moves to California. After a successful search you are able to hire someone who brings needed skills and energy to the group, but somehow the momentum has been disrupted.

Does this seem familiar?  One challenge for building and sustaining effective teams is that the task is never done. Just when you think everything is hellofine, something changes. When the change involves integrating a new person into an existing team, there are challenges for the new team member and the existing ones.

The biggest challenge is to help the new team member become part of the group. As one author said, “the unwritten rules and expectations of the team are more likely to trip up the newbie than the official stuff.” Years ago a friend of mine was in that position. It was her first day on the job and she didn’t know her way around. When she walked into the break room there were two refrigerators. She put her lunch in one of them and continued with the day. Guess what? She used the WRONG refrigerator! And people were upset about it for a long time afterwards.

Every team has some kind of “wrong refrigerator.” As leaders, we play a role in helping new people figure out the rules. It can be even more helpful to assign a fellow team member to be a “buddy” for the first few weeks. Here are some other suggestions for bringing new members on board.

  • Help the new person feel like part of the team by providing the same sort of resources, tools, and even t-shirts or coffee mugs that the other team members have.
  • Explain the context for the work, including goals, objectives, key initiatives, and the team’s unique contribution to the organization.
  • Help the new member understand group norms and effective strategies for navigating the workplace.
  • Build relationships by helping new team members understand everyone’s strengths and contributions and sharing what they bring to the table.
  • Ensure that the new team member knows key stakeholders, particularly high-level sponsors. If possible schedule one-on-one coffee or lunch meetings.
  • Define specific roles and responsibilities for the new team member, and provide feedback from peers as well as team leaders.

Helping a new team member feel like a welcome and contributing member of the group is everyone’s job. As a leader you can set the stage for the new person’s success. What strategies have worked for you?

–Dee Anne Bonebright

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