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Leadership 101: Team Dynamics and the New Hire

“I’m not sure about that new guy. He doesn’t seem to be fitting in and doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing. Why’d you hire him?” Ever have someone walk into your office and say something like this? Ever find yourself wondering why a new person on the team isn’t fitting in? On-boarding a new hire can be stressful. In teams that are well-established and performing well, the stress can be even greater.

We’re all familiar with the four stages of team development (Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing) and the team dynamics associated with them. If you happen to be on a team in the performing stage, you know what a great experience it is. Team members trust each other, hold each other accountable to team goals, and often back each other up. Camaraderie tends to be high, people finish each other’s sentences, and informal processes have developed and are universally understood without having to be written down. Most importantly, our expectations of each other are high as well.

But when a new member joins the team, the tendency is for existing team members to have the same high expectations for the new member. They can forget what the team was like back in the early stages of storming and norming. Unfortunately, the new team member doesn’t have the benefit of having gone through those stages with the existing team and may fail to live up to the unrealistic expectations of the existing team members. This causes friction and, if left unattended to by you the leader, can lead to low morale, frustration, and unhealthy conflict.

So, what to do? First, before on-boarding a new member, manage expectations with existing team members. If possible, get them involved in spinning up their new teammate. Remind them the new person is going through their own forming, storming, and norming phases. Get them to realize that it is in the team’s interests to help the person along. Make it clear to your team that your intent is to do everything possible, with their help, to help the new person become a valuable member of the team. Also reassure them that if the new person turns out not to be a good fit for the team, you will have the courage to make that call.

Jennifer Landers, a recent graduate in Indianapolis faced just this situation and developed her own on-boarding process for a new team member. She shares these steps:

1)   Plan a team building activity to “kick-off” the addition of a new team member.
2)   Have a checklist available for the new hire, to ensure they are on track with their training and performance expectations.
3)   Set expectations with the team and trainer, to establish what performance is expected over a set timeframe. This helps the leader to decide at the appropriate time if the new hire is a good fit for the team.
4)   Have regular check-ins with the trainer and new hire to assess progress.
5)   Include the new hire in all group projects, providing a progression of added responsibility.

What a great way to set the new teammate up for success! Do you have your own techniques for on-boarding new team members? Please share in comments.


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