Team onboarding 101 – top tips to help new colleagues get on the good foot

Onboarding and induction is a big deal, but how to do it in teams?

There’s a lot of churn out there right now. Lots of people moving roles, moving organisations and moving teams. And that means a lot of change for individuals and for teams too. So, in today’s podcast I want to make a point, and I’ll give you some practical tips too on how to get new team joiners off to the best possible start when they’re joining a new team.

My point is that while induction and onboarding are fairly well established as core people processes in most organisations, the quality and depth of onboarding vary a lot depending on how much effort has been put into the design to make the experience human-centred.  And what seems to come last on the list in most organisations is team onboarding.

What I mean by team onboarding is having an actual thought-through process that supports new joiners AND the team that they’re joining from the point of view of the people involved. New joiners equals change, change equals disruption and for most people, disruption equals pain and discomfort. So it’s on organisations and it’s on team leaders to make sure that the process is as pain-free, as enriching, and as human-centred as possible.

My practical tips for good team onboarding are:

  1. Introduce new joiners to your team culture, charter and expectations
  2. Help them to understand business critical processes, any team jargon and team history
  3. Organise meetings for new colleagues asap and make sure you have a structure for this
  4. Set up a team session for strengths and risks sharing
  5. Don’t forget re-joiners returning from a period away.

So let’s get to it!

  1. Introduction to team culture, charter and expectations

When you join a new organisation and a new team, there’s a LOT and I mean a LOT of information and newness coming at you. And this level of churn and change and newness is typically picked up in the brain as threat. You’re in fight, flight, freeze mode most of the time during your first few weeks in a new role…trying to take on board as much information as you can, build relationships with new people and understand how things work.

But mainly, you’re trying to not mess up. Not say the wrong thing, use the right language, not forget a super important piece of information you’ve been told, not embarrass yourself publicly. Essentially, you’re in threat-spotting and threat-management mode.  What would be really useful as you come into a new team is a kind of ‘survival guide’ to get you feeling psychologically safe as quickly as possible.

You can hear more on psychological safety in my podcast at Season 12, episode 6: ‘What is psychological safety and how can you get it?’ but the relevant part here is that if you understand more about the ‘dos and don’ts’ of behaviour that are in play in a team, it’s a fast-track to threat avoidance and to feeling safer in your new environment.  As social beings, humans want to feel part of, to feel included and to belong. So tooling up a new joiner with an ‘inside track’ knowledge on how to get to that safe place quicker will be very much welcomed.

If you’ve already worked on your team charter, great. This will give you your new joiner their quick start survival guide. If you haven’t, then my version of a team charter tends to include mainly team purpose, objectives and team behaviours. So a set of statements that defines what the team does and how it does it.  For me, good team charters are simple, oriented towards business outcomes and people-centred. So the dos and don’ts of behaviour are straightforward and easy to understand.

Get that right and a new team joiner will know pretty quickly what they need to be most conscious of as they start working in the team. The next part of that is helping the new team member understand how their role links to the team’s purpose and objectives, so that they can see what value personally they will bring to the team.

  1. Understanding business critical processes, jargon, history

The next element to consider, beyond whatever has been covered in an organisational induction and onboarding, are the business-critical processes that drive the team day-to-day. What are the bits of admin that everyone in the team needs to complete? Where are the most important documents that everyone uses? Have someone in the team provide that information to the new joiner in the simplest way possible so that they can remember the stuff they’ll need to do from Day 1.

Another thing to be hyper-conscious of when someone joins a team is jargon – shorthand terms, acronyms, anything that’s in common usage within the team or organisation but that won’t be obvious to someone coming in as an outsider. It’s quite excluding to not have jargon and key terms explained or for team members not to realise that a new joiner won’t know what’s being talked about, so allocate a team member to noticing when this happens in team meetings and pausing to explain each time.

Last thing is that when you join a new team, there will be some history that you just don’t know about – some established relationships, perhaps previous bosses or team members who get talked about, some critical moments that the team has experienced together. Again, notice when these things come up and explain their relevance to a new joiner so that they can move from ‘outsider’ to ‘insider’ as quickly as possible.

  1. Meeting new colleagues asap and giving a structure for this

At Strengthscope, we set up individual 1-2-1 meetings for new joiners with each member of their team ideally within their first few days. These meetings are scheduled as 30 minutes and comprise: outlining your role and what you do in the team, what your key strengths are, what the new joiner could call on you for (like how can you help them in their new role) and then whatever personal introduction (family circs, where you live, favourite movie or series, what you do in your spare time, that kind of thing).

These ‘say hello to’ meetings are quick and punchy and don’t need to last that long, but the important part is that as a new joiner, you’ve made a connection with each member of the team on a human level as well as understanding where each person fits into the team system from very early on.  And that can help to make you feel psychologically quickly.

  1. Strengths and risks sharing, from day one, including strength gap filling in teams

I’ve just mentioned that at Strengthscope, we share our strengths on a 1-2-1 basis so that new joiners get to hear what energises each team member as well as being able to say where their strengths lie too. Having someone new coming into the team is also a great opportunity to re-look at the team’s strengths as a whole and see what’s changed.

How might the new joiner’s strengths benefit the team, are there any risk areas that have popped up with perhaps a couple of people joining and/or leaving? And what will the team do to get the most from the strengths and minimise any risks in driving towards its objectives?

This conversation can be very beneficial not just for new joiners, but also for the team as a whole – it’s an opportunity to revisit team purpose and objectives, as well as seeing how each individual’s role and strengths work towards getting the team job done.

  1. Don’t forget re-joiners returning from a period away – how to reboard well

My final tip is to make sure to plan well for ‘re-boarders’. Re-boarders are those people who have left a team temporarily for whatever reason – it may be for parental leave but could also be after a period of absence or because they’ve been seconded onto another team for project reasons.

Whatever the reason, it is sensible NOT to assume that the rejoining team member will be able to step back into the team in just the same way as they stepped out of it. There will have been change – team members coming and going, perhaps a change in team objectives and the rejoiner may also have changed.

For team members who’ve been away for any period of time, particularly when their life circumstances have changed, there may well be some nervousness about coming back and worrying how people might see or treat them now. Again, helping to create a psychologically safe environment for someone coming back is the key and that’s everyone’s responsibility.

There’s some more specific advice, particularly on rejoining parents in Podversation 23…How to support parents at work – what organisations need to know with Charlotte Speak. So if that’s relevant in your team, do check it out.

In conclusion, make team onboarding a core people process and get your joiners off on the best foot

We’ve covered a lot there. To recap, my tips for onboarding new or rejoining team members are:

  1. Introduce new joiners to your team culture, charter and expectations
  2. Help them to understand business critical processes, jargon and history
  3. Organise meetings for new colleagues asap and giving a structure for this
  4. Set up a team session for strengths and risks sharing
  5. Don’t forget re-joiners returning from a period away – make sure you have a reboarding plan.

The headline here is a simple one – put the new joiner at the centre of the process and think about their experience and how you can get them to a place of relative comfort and belonging as quickly as possible.

Second priority is to do the same for the wider team – changes for the team as a whole when a new team member joins are less major but it’s still change and can still create disruption and anxiety.

If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please head over to the Resources section on the Strengthscope website…that’s where you can find lots more tips on teams, leadership, career development, engagement, and more, all through a strengths lens.  Till next time, stay strong.