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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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


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How team members identify their strength activities

March 21, 2007

One of the chief objectives in forming a team is to find people with complimentary strengths, talents, and skills. The mix provides the team with the necessary breadth to cover a wide range of demands, and allows for more flexibility to adjust to the inevitable challenges that arise during projects.

Steven Covey puts it this way, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.

To achieve this mixture in teams, it is first necessary for individuals to understand their own strengths. Most of us have plenty of thoughts about our own strengths. After all, we all had to answer the same standard interview question, didn’t we? “So [interviewee name], what are you greatest strengths?”

Answers that I have heard (and used) are typically fairly vague, in the vein of: attention to detail, team player, organized, self-motivated, etc.

GOIn his book Go Put Your Strengths to Work, Marcus Buckingham argues that our greatest opportunity for improvement lies in capitalizing on our strengths. To achieve real improvement, however, we need to get beyond vague descriptions of strengths by focusing on the activities that allow us to utilize our strengths.

Strength activities have 4 SIGNs

  1. Success – you are successful when playing to a strength
  2. Instinct – you are drawn to, and look forward to, strength activities
  3. Growth – strength activities feel natural (more on this below)
  4. Needs – strength activities seem to fill certain innate needs

Under the header of GROWTH, Buckingham writes engagingly about how strength activities make us feel.

It feels easy. It feels like you’re not trying very hard. It feels like an activity that for some reason, proved quite simple for you to pick up. You learned it quickly and now, when you are doing it, you don’t struggle to concentrate. Instead you naturally stay focused and time speeds up, and you still stay focused and time speeds up some more. You have to remind yourself to step and look up at the clock, and when you do, whole hours have flown by.

Sounds to me like being “in the zone.”

Identify your strength activities

Buckingham suggests a process of self-observation whereby you write down what you are doing when you catch yourself engaging in activities that have the 4 SIGNs described above. Continue the process for about 2 weeks, recording each activity on a separate card, along with how it makes you feel.

At the end of the time, review all the cards to reveal those with the highest SIGN rankings. These are the daily activities that most play to your strengths. You will want clarify whether the activity has caveats or special circumstances. For example, attending brainstorming meetings may be a strength activity for you, whereas attending other types of meetings may not.

Related Post: Playing to your strengths on teams


By the way, I will post a review of Go Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham at Joyful Jubilant Learning’s A Love Affair with Books on March 30.


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Playing to your strengths on teams

March 19, 2007

You’ll recognize this scenario: The team understands its common objective, agrees upon a general strategy, and has identified the tasks to be completed.

The time comes to assign various tasks to individuals. Each person secretly knows which tasks appeal to them; those they enjoy performing ; the ones they are good at; the tasks that motivate them; the assignments that will allow them to shine!

Team leader: What about you, Bob, which tasks would you prefer?

Team member Bob: I’ll be glad to work on whatever the team needs.

In his new book Go Put Your Strengths to Work, Marcus Buckingham identifies three myths that can prevent someone from capitalizing on their strengths. According to Buckingham, ninety-one percent of people believe the following:

Myth: A good team member does whatever it takes to help the team.

At first glance, this statement sounds quite reasonable; an approach that could be taken by the quintessential “team player.” I mean, who doesn’t want a teammate who “does what it takes?

However, Buckingham convincingly argues that this approach is neither good for the individual nor the team, because it does not align teamwork tasks with an individual’s strengths. To create a win-win situation for the person and the team, Buckingham proposes the following:

Truth: A good team member deliberately volunteers his strengths to the team most of the time.

When all team members are playing to their strengths, individuals are able to get even better in areas where they excel and the team gets the benefit of “consistently near-perfect performance” on tasks that naturally align with team member strengths. Team members are not being selfish by volunteering for strength activities. Rather, they are providing a valuable service to help the team maximize its effectiveness.

(Because team tasks are unlikely to align perfectly with team member strengths, Buckingham adds the obvious caveat, “…occasionally each team member will have to step outside of his strengths zone and ‘pinch-hit’ for the team.”)

So let’s try again..

Team leader: “What about you, Bob, which tasks would you prefer?”

Team member Bob: “I really get a charge out of doing “x” and I’ve had a lot of success at it. I think the team would benefit if I took ownership of the “x” assignment. How does that sound to everyone else?”


By the way, I will post a review of Go Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham at Joyful Jubilant Learning’s A Love Affair with Books on March 30.


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Building high performance cultures

March 15, 2007

Jeffrey Pfeffer’s recent congressional testimony has received a good deal of attention around the blogosphere. Most that I have read have highlighted Pfeffer’s critique of pay-for-performance incentive structures, which he argues are systems that “effectively motivate the wrong behavior.”

In reviewing the testimony, I was struck by the alternative Pfeffer laid out for improvement. He explained that rather than tinkering around the edges with payment incentives, organizations seeking better outcomes should concentrate on building high performance cultures.

Although the list of high commitment or high performance work practices differs slightly among authors and studies, most such lists include:

a) sustained investment in training and development, including job rotation, both formal and on-the-job training, and a tendency to promote from within as a consequence of the successful internal development of skill and people;

b) an egalitarian culture in which formal status distinctions are downplayed, salary differences across levels are less than in the general economy, and in which people feel as if their contributions are important and valued;

c) delegation of decision making responsibility so that skilled and developed people can actually use their gifts and skills to make real decisions;

d) high pay to reduce turnover and attract the best people, coupled with rewards that share organizational success with its members; and

e) employment security and a policy of mutual commitment, so that the workforce does not fear for the outcomes of events over which it has no control and instead, feels reciprocally committed to the employer.

It is quite a feat for organizations to meet a majority of these ideals, meeting all five is phenomenal. Where does your organization fall out, and what discussions can Pfeffer’s comments help begin toward improvement?

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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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Emotional intelligence is a social lubricant for teams

February 4, 2007

Daniel Goleman points to a couple of interesting studies published in Human Performance that examine the keys to a team’s survival in difficult situations, such as a blizzard. The studies both found that teams with members having high levels of emotional intelligence performed best, even better than teams with members of higher IQ.

The champion teams, both studies found, were highest in group emotional intelligence. Intriguingly, when individuals were given the same challenge, their cognitive ability (as measured by SAT scores – these were college students) was the best predictor of survival. But once people were put in a team situation, individual cognitive ability made virtually no difference – instead emotional intelligence made the difference.

This makes sense in terms of earlier findings on “group IQ,” the ability of teams to perform well. Research with high-IQ team members found, for instance, that if they did not have the skills of cooperation, negotiation and teamwork, they perform poorly (in part because individual members competed to show who was smarter). As I wrote in Emotional Intelligence (p.160), “The key to a high group IQ is social harmony. This ability, all other things being equal, will make one group especially productive and successful.”

In teamwork, emotional intelligence is the crucial social lubricant, providing the capacity to settle disputes well, brainstorm creatively, and work harmoniously.

I like the imagery of the term social lubricant. I picture Dorothy oiling the rusty elbows of Tin Man and the coating of automobile oil allowing high-performance engines to purr steadily for hours.

Friction is a natural occurrence of virtually any human collaborative effort. Business teams face great pressure from tight deadlines and high expectations for success, creating great opportunity for friction to strain teamwork.

My experience reflects Goleman’s point that, when faced with intense challenges, it helps tremendously to have team member’s who are skilled in the emotional intelligence competencies: Self-Awareness; Self-Management; Social Awareness; and Relationship Management.

Pressure tends to stress relationships and communication within teams, and EI skills serve to grease the wheels at just the right time to smooth interactions. EI helps keep conflict focused on the problems rather than people. EI helps individuals to manage their own performance and to bring out the best in others.

Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence, is one of those that I find worth re-reading or referencing often, and at the top of the list for referring to those who have missed it thus far.

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