Six keys to a new team member’s success

April 23, 2007

Work teams often face situations in which new team members join the team. Teams can smooth the transition by providing a thorough orientation for these new members. When they gain knowledge about such things as process, procedures, and available tools, new team members can quickly begin applying their talents and skills to the team’s purpose.

While taking steps to orient new team members seems like common sense, orientation often gets pushed to the back burner, overshadowed by what may seem to be higher priorities. However, because there are always new members, it is never to late to plan for your next new team member orientation!

Here are six keys to a thorough orientation designed to ensure a new team member’s success.

  1. Partnering with a ‘buddy’. Current team members who will work side-by-side with a new member can do a great job with orientation because they have the knowledge to function in the same environment as the new member. A buddy system also reinforces a culture of interdependence among team members.
  2. Understanding the culture. Teams often develop their own culture, which is a combination of the over-arching organizational culture and a more localized aspect based on the people and the purpose of the team. Culture includes: the core values acknowledged by the team; how members conduct the themselves in work-related and personal matters; and the language, vocabulary and communication styles used in the team’s environment.
  3. Navigating the organization. This is critical if the new team member is coming from outside the organization, but it is also good to review with members who may be transferring internally. You want to ensure they are comfortable with the names, faces, titles, roles, and reporting relationships that effect the team.
  4. Utilizing the procedures. To get things accomplished in any organization, teams deal with a number of procedures that have been adopted and adapted over time. New team members were likely pros at utilizing procedures on their last team, but they may become stalled at every turn without structured guidance. Procedures are designed to facilitate work, not hamper it. Don’t let them become traps for new team members.
  5. Accessing the tools. A new team member may be a whiz at the team’s primary software programs, but they have to know how to access the shared drive to be able to collaborate. Tools can include technology, supplies, administrative support, and other resources.
  6. Committing to the mission. The basis of any business team is that the members share a common purpose – to achieve the team’s mission. New team members can be at a disadvantage if they join a team that has a well defined purpose, yet their commitment is necessary to their success and that of the team. In addition to ensuring that they understand the mission, the team may need to reengage in discussion of its purpose so that new members can be heard and become fully committed.

Teams can probably draft the key contents of their new member orientation during a single meeting, then set about refining it as needed. The process of developing the orientation is often instructional itself because differences in understandings or opinion among current team members may arise, or nuances in individual approaches will be revealed.

A thorough orientation is not the only factor in determining the success of a new team member (but it is an important one). For example, I discussed before how the existing team structure influences how quickly new members can begin to significantly contribute to the team. All else equal, teams with an established structure and culture can more easily integrate new members than teams that are only loosely organized, especially when the new members are good fits for the previous structure.

How does your team integrate new members? Have you identified other key components of a thorough orientation?

Credit to Leader’s Edge and Dr. Seymour Adler for inspiration.

Related posts: A metaphor for teamworking
Using short-hand communication within teams

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Become curious about resistance

April 11, 2007

Talk to the HandHaving trouble convincing team mates to adopt your suggestions? Feeling that your ideas are meeting resistance more so than collaboration? Maybe it’s time to take another look at what you can learn from resistance.

Dale H. Emery explores “resistance” in this rich article, Resistance as a Resource. (via Mishkin)

…the key to resolving resistance — is to become curious. Before trying to convince someone, learn at least one more thing about the person’s point of view. A great way to learn is to explore people’s responses — especially the responses that strike you as resistance. Every response carries valuable information, clues about the person, about the environment around you, about your request, or about yourself. Treat each response as a precious resource.

Emery provides an in-depth examination of 4 factors that may lead to resistance when one person makes a request of others:

  • expectations about the request
  • communication about the request
  • the relationship with the person making the request
  • influences from the environment

One take-away: Resistance is a natural reaction that should be anticipated when working with others. By learning what is behind the resistance, we can ferret out weaknesses in our own strategy and make adjustments. The result will lead to overcoming resistance and improving the plan overall.

Be curious; take a look at the article here.

Related post:
Asking the right questions to facilitate teamwork

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Telling versus selling

March 18, 2007

Every team must determine what tasks and activities are needed to meet its objectives and decide which team members will work on which tasks.


Team leaders can make these decisions, then tell the team of the overall plan and the responsibilities of each team member. Using this approach, team leaders will often consult with some or all team members before making decisions about tasks and assignments.

A wagon wheel provides a good analogy for this type of team structure. Think of the team leader as the center and team members as spokes. Wagon wheels can work efficiently and cover a lot of ground once they gain momentum.

However, wagon wheels are entirely reliant on the center to hold them together. The center serves as the wheel’s connection to the rest of the wagon, just as a ‘telling’ team leader might serve as the team’s primary contact with the larger organization. Although the wagon wheel functions as a unit toward a common objective, the individual spokes have no dynamics between them. The wheel does not serve as a source of energy for the wagon, but rather relies on external motivation.


Alternatively, teams can collaboratively make decisions about tasks and assignments. Instead of the team leader ‘telling’ team members their plan, decision making becomes a matter of each team member ‘selling’ others on why various approaches should be adopted. As the process of selling convinces the team which are the most sound strategies, team members become committed to the plan, the tasks and their assignments.

An analogy of this type of team structure is the atom. Individual team members, including the team leader, are the electron, protons and neutrons. The team’s primary objective is the nucleus, and serves to hold the team together around its common purpose.

Dynamics between and among the members of an ‘atomic’ team generate energy and synergy, which serves to propel the team’s work and provide additional resources for the larger organization. The role of the team leader varies based on the needs. In self-managing ‘atomic’ teams, leadership is dispersed across its members.

How is your team functioning? Are you telling or selling? Is each team member a cog in the wheel or integral parts of an energy-generating, ‘atomic’ team?

A collaboration parable and 8 “C”s of teamwork

March 11, 2007

Reading Akhil Sharari, author of The Smart Entrepreneur, is entertaining and thought-provoking. First read this parable found on his About page.

There was a Saint who had a vision about what it was like in Hell & Heaven.

In Hell he saw a huge table laden with food in the centre. Surrounding the table were starving people who all had very long forks attached to the ends of their arms. They could stab the food, but the forks were too long for them to put the food in their mouths. They were all screaming in frustration as they tried to eat the food that they longed for.

In Heaven, the saint saw the exact same table laden with food & people with the long forks at the ends of their arms. However, here he people were all smiling & enjoying the food. What they were doing was stabbing the food & putting it in EACH OTHER’s mouths!

You don’t have to contemplate an afterlife to get the message of that story. We can all accomplish more by working together!

Elsewhere, Akhil identifies 5 key characteristics of effective teamwork – all beginning with the letter “C”.

  • Clear expectations: Each team member knows their role and expected contribution.
  • Channels of communication: Team members share openly with one another and the team fosters communication within the organization.
  • Conflict resolution: Team members work to resolve differences directly, with mutual respect.
  • Consequences: Team members are responsible for, and accountable to, one another.
  • Celebrating achievements: Team members jointly share in the team’s success.

I would add three more Cs to the list.

  • Coaching: Team members share insights and knowledge with one another to boost individual development.
  • Collaboration: Team members build on the efforts of one another to achieve objectives that would be unattainable alone.
  • Community: Team members develop bonds that lead to supporting each other both professionally and personally.

Visits Akhil’s website!

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Using short-hand communication within teams

February 28, 2007

shorthand.gifAs team members work together, it’s reasonable to expect that communication between them will improve over time. I have experienced times when I could almost read the minds of teammates and we could complete each other’s sentences with great certainty.

Team members highly attuned to one another can often develop a pattern of short-hand communication based on an understanding that some things do not have to be stated explicitly because the information is already shared between them. Reaching such a high level of closeness and understanding between team mates makes communication efficient, which allows more time for productivity and for the critical element of personal bonding.

There is a downside, however, because short-hand communication requires team members to make calculations about what is, and is not, already known by their team mates. A study led by Boaz Keysar, Professor in Psychology at the University of Chicago, examines the issue.

Consider two ways that sharing information could impact communication, what we call “local” and “global.” Jenn may say to Kate “Paul is leaving the party” if they both know his name, but “The guy with the goatee is leaving the party” if Kate does not know his name. Such “local” sensitivity to shared information implies that people rely on knowledge in communication only when it is known to be shared with the other.

Inefficiencies arises when the communicator miscalculates what information the other person knows. For example, if Jenn uses Paul’s name, but Kate does not know Paul, then she has to ask something like, “Which one is Paul?” This forces Jenn to supply new information, “The guy with the goatee.” Under those circumstances, it would have been more efficient for Jenn to be more explicit from the start.

Keysar found that “the more information participants shared, the more they used their own knowledge. This facilitated communication when they talked about shared objects, but increased confusion with information” that was not known by the receiver. The researchers conclude that “increase in knowledge overlap could benefit communication globally but could also introduce local inefficiencies.”

Miscalculating what knowledge others possess is not the only problem. We also have no assurance that someone will speak up about their lack of knowledge to clarify any confusion. In that case, the speaker would likely believe they communicated and yet the receiver would not get the message – at least not fully and accurately.

In summary, short-hand communication between team members who share knowledge can be rewarding and increase efficiency. However, when knowledge is not fully shared by team mates, short-hand communication can lead to inefficiencies, create confusion, and possibly cause communication failures.

I don’t take this as a sign to stop all short-hand communication. Rather, we should use other communication skills, such as “parroting” (repeating back what was heard), reading body language and listening for verbal cues, to make certain that the communication is received as intended.

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Learn, share, coach… repeat previous steps

February 23, 2007

Working in a collaborative environment offers a tremendous opportunity for personal development that goes well beyond accomplishing the objectives of the team. Managers, team leaders and other team members routinely share with each other what they have learned and coach colleagues on matters of knowledge, skills, process, and performance.

This pattern of learning, sharing and coaching allows us to recycle and recalibrate our own approaches for teamwork and productivity.

In the insightful post Learning Through Business Development, Ann Michael recognizes the presence of such a cycle in her consulting business.

Spending time getting to know the people, issues, and opportunities within a company is the only way I know to identify real needs and determine if the skills I offer (or represent through partners) can effectively address them.

I might talk with people in organizations several times before a potential engagement is even identified. I’ve always enjoyed this part of consulting.

But, it didn’t occur to me until recently just how valuable business development activities are as a learning experience. By building relationships and listening to leaders describe their companies and their aspirations, I become more knowledgeable and gain a broad and diverse view of my industry.

Similar to Ann’s experience as a consultant, team members must invest the time to get to know one another and to identify issues and opportunities for growth. Only then can we determine how best to support one another through knowledge sharing and coaching.

But it doesn’t end there!

By learning about other team members, we gain more information and insights to add to our resources for sharing and coaching. The experience of sharing and coaching, and the feedback we receive, adds even more to our learning.

And on it goes…

Related posts:

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Business results essential for achieving culture of collaboration

February 19, 2007

gap_logo2.gifGood intentions about collaboration and teamwork are great, but they must be matched with solid business results. That’s the lesson I take away from reading Business Week’s article about Paul Pressler’s Fall From The Gap.

Pressler sought to instill a culture of collaboration that, unfortunately, met with less than stellar results. Certainly Pressler’s cultural change initiatives were not the only factors in the Gap’s decade-long decline, but it may have contributed.

It was Gap’s longstanding corporate culture that caught Pressler’s attention early on. At the time, the no-nonsense corporate mantra was “Own it, do it, get it done.” But Pressler thought this ethos didn’t sufficiently promote collaboration. He set out to promote a new environment built around the slogan “Purpose, Values, and Behaviors.” Among the catchphrases were bromides such as: “Explore, Create, and Exceed Together.” Pamphlets promoting communication and teamwork landed on employees’ desks. Posters and banners trumpeting the bland new slogans went up around headquarters.

In the beginning, “people were very receptive” to the effort, says Alan J. Barocas, the company’s former senior vice-president for real estate. “It was embraced.” But eye-rolling started as the initiative began consuming a lot of time. Former employees say they had to sit through countless meetings, workshops, and role-playing seminars where Pressler and his hr executives discussed the new culture. Many staffers felt they were wasting their time in get-togethers that didn’t address the crucial matter of creating and marketing clothes. “hr was out of control,” says a former insider.

Pressler’s collaboration initiatives may have met with a different fate if retail sales had improved instead of continuing to fall throughout his tenure. Guiding an organizational culture toward greater collaboration, teamwork and openness has been a hallmark of success for many leaders, such as Whole Foods Market’s CEO John Mackey. However, the same initiatives can be viewed as time-wasting distractions from core business objectives when they are not accompanied by positive results.

I like that the Gap’s board gave Pressler several years to achieve results at the retail giant, because a dose of patience is often needed when trying to reverse negative trends. Unfortunately, the article indicates that a series of seemingly bad operational decisions doomed Pressler’s efforts.

What’s the lesson for the rest of us? I believe it is that team leaders and managers should develop both cultural and operational strategies jointly, ensuring that each supports and reinforces the other.

Easier said than done, I know, but imperative nonetheless.

What are your thoughts?

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