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


TechnoratiTechnorati: , , , , , , ,

Advertisements

Teamwork, trust and kept promises

April 17, 2007

NvestNtech founder Peter Kusterer offers a simple, well-told story illustrating that trust is a key component in teamwork.

As the early morning of a new day unfolded, the quiet procession of trucks, men, and equipment were nearly silent; you could barely make out their silhouettes in the low light of dawn. They were getting ready to take care of a large tree at my neighbor’s home that was beginning to lose its footing.

Credit bacigalupeQuietly in the dark they went about their prep work. Words were exchanged quietly with many actions being taken without speaking to each other.I was struck by the professionalism of this team.

Although it wasn’t clear to me, they seemed to understand what each other needed and how they worked together. It didn’t take long to see that each member had a specific role and duty to carry out.

This is dangerous work and you could see the trust each man placed in the other.

The story caught my attention, in part, because my father used to tell me stories of the tree removal crew he worked on as a young man. Perhaps because of that experience, Dad taught my brothers and me how to look out for the safety of each other when handling tools and equipment during group work such as hay baling or trout line rigging. Even more, we learned to accomplish our tasks in ways that helped add to the efficiency and effectiveness of the other person.

As with the tree crew in Peter’s story or my own youthful experiences, teams in professional organizations require a high level of trust among team members to meet their performance objectives.

How is a high level of trust achieved? Through kept promises!

Here is how Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith explain it in The Wisdom of Teams.

At its core, team accountability is about the sincere promises we make to ourselves and others, promises that underpin two critical aspects of effective teams: commitment and trust. By promising to hold our selves accountable to the team’s goals, we each earn the right to express our own views about all aspects of the team’s effort and to have our views receive a fair and constructive hearing. By following through on such a promise we preserve and extend the trust upon which any team must be built.

Whether the team’s goal is the safe felling of a large tree or the on-time, within-budget production of a project deliverable, success rests upon the team members’ trust of one another; trust to keep promises.

Find Peter’s entire post here.


Related posts:
Rebuilding shattered trust
8 essential elements for trusting teams
Trust is a two-way street
Three steps for building trust in teams and organizations


TechnoratiTechnorati: , , , , ,


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


TechnoratiTechnorati: ,


Is the tail wagging the dog on your team?

March 26, 2007

Grace Andrews raises a number of good issues in the post Managing to the 2%. She points out that teams, managers, and organizations often go too far when addressing problems that apply to only a few employees.

An example might be implementing a daily written status-reporting structure because a single team member communicates poorly about progress on their tasks, despite the fact that everyone else routinely shares all relevant task status information.

Overreacting, by creating new rules, policies, and procedures, is equivalent to letting the (2%) “tail” wag the (98%) “dog.”

So what is the fall out of this behavior? Think about it. When the 98% wake up, smell the coffee, and realize they are being “ruled” to death because of a few who aren’t contributing, the dynamic of the whole team is in jeopardy. Morale suffers; it takes twice as long to maneuver because of the restrictions put in place for the 2%. Employees end up feeling disempowered, and if the focus on managing to the 2% continues, turnover increases.

Organizations that have worked diligently to foster a strong culture of teamwork and collaboration may find their progress unraveling with each new policy. The most effective team members will recognize that new rules would be otherwise unnecessary if not for the 2% and, therefore, resent the unwarranted burden.

Andrews offers a few suggestions:

  • Before adopting any new policy or rule, consider whether it is for the 2% or the 98%.
  • Don’t let the 2% bog down the team; manage them up or out.
  • Practice transparency; when team members know what is going on it is hard for the 2% to gain a foothold.

I offer this additional suggestion:

Engage the entire team in deciding what policies and rules are needed to accomplish the objectives.

In the example of the single employee who communicates poorly about progress on their tasks, the team is unlikely to endorse a burdensome procedure of mostly unnecessary daily reports. A better solution is more likely to emerge from the combined contributions of the team. Team members will be empowered to establish their own rules and standards. The dog will once again wag the tail.

As an added bonus, the open deliberation process will help demonstrate how the behavior of the 2% is viewed by their colleagues.

Read Grace Andrew’s full article at FastCompany.com.


Photograph comes from Flickr by SoozieQ. I cropped the picture to show only the beautiful tail.


TechnoratiTechnorati: , ,


Does your team understand it’s mission?

March 23, 2007

By definition, teams are created to achieve a specific purpose – the mission. Ensuring that team members understand the mission, and the importance of their roles in relationship to the mission, is essential.

That could be the end of this post…

Unfortunately, teams don’t always ensure that the mission is fully understood. In fact, circumstances often challenge mission-awareness, such as times when teams are geographically dispersed (virtual teams) or when team membership is fluid (e.g., team members have specialized roles on multiple teams.)

This short story from stickyminds provides a good illustration. [via Raven Young.]

One team that I worked with told me this story about what can happen when a vision is not shared with the team. They were using an agile approach to software development, and had a product owner who, every two weeks, would attend the planning meeting to tell the team what he wanted them to work on for the next two-week iteration.

During one of these meetings, he told the team that he wanted them to delete the customer whenever the customer selected an opt-out option. The team completed this work and demonstrated it for the product owner, who was pleased with the outcome and accepted the feature. Another successful iteration followed, and another. Then the product owner told the team that for this next iteration, he wanted them to take the deleted customer records and prep them for data mining by the R&D staff.

The team said “Whoa! You told us you wanted the customer deleted when they opted out, so that’s what we did—we didn’t archive that information, we permanently deleted it.”

The product owner was dumbfounded. “How could you do that? Don’t you know that one of the goals of this project is to figure out why we’re losing customers?”

Umm, no.

The team members responsible for the work had never learned the true mission of their efforts. Who knows how this came about…

Perhaps, they were still busy with a previous project and not involved in start-up for this one. Perhaps the team leader hoarded information or communicated poorly about the overall objectives.

Regardless the immediate cause, the effect was wasted time and effort, a dissatisfied client who likely lost faith in the team (if not the entire organization,) and the generally feeling that processes were dysfunctional. No one would be surprised if the client pressed the DELETE key!

How does your team ensure a common understanding of its primary mission? Look around. Is there any chance that team members may not be aware of or fully understand the overall objectives? If so, its worth taking the time to discuss and clarify.

TechnoratiTechnorati: , ,


Geewiz on using internal blogs for effective team communication

March 20, 2007

If you haven’t picked up the feed for Jochen Lillich’s home of geewiz (a.k.a. blog of geewiz,) then click over and subscribe. You’ll be glad you did!

Jochen provides one of the best accounts that I have read about how to use an internal blog for communicating within teams. He describes how each IT team member makes a “daily” post to communicate four key items:

  • Results
  • Decisions
  • Findings
  • Good news

Our “Daily Blog” has become an important communication tool. Managers and coworkers get up-to-date information about what a team is working on, what’s going well and what problems arose lately—without having time-consuming meetings. And via the comment section, people can respond with questions or additions, therefore starting dialogues.

And there’s another, hidden advantage: by writing about it, people deliberate about their work. So, there’s not only a communication aspect, but also a reflection aspect in our blogging. Both effects combined really make the time spent writing daily blog entries worthwhile.

I am constantly reading (and sometimes writing) about differences between people who do blog and those who do not blog. In teams, however, there is just one group – team member’s who do communicate. The only question becomes how that communication occurs; one-to-one, one-to-many, face-to-face, conference call, e-mail, blogs, and wikis (did I miss something?)

The simplicity of blogs makes them a viable alternative that many teams have adopted. Blogs are both compartmentalized (one post at a time) and comprehensive (all posts are contained in the blog). Blogs are more easily searched than e-mail and not reliant on who kept or deleted which message.

Finally, Jochen points out that the “continuous flow of information about [the team’s] current work fosters transparency and the exchange of ideas and helpful hints.” Read the entire post here.

TechnoratiTechnorati: , , ,


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!

TechnoratiTechnorati: , ,