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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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.

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Five things I learned in February 2007

February 22, 2007


February is a short month (and my birthday month), but it’s been chock full of learning for me. How about you?

Here are five things I learned this month:

SJO1. You can get free online access to SAGE journals until the end of the month! I have used SAGE products for years and the journal articles include a wide range of topics. Hurry; only 5 days left.

2. Everyone looks for a little something different in a book review. However, one universal truth is that you have to act fast if you want to be a featured reviewer during A JJL Love Affair with Books being offered throughout March.

3. Relationship Bloggers will soon have their own conference and networking event, SOBCon07. Chicago is the place – May 11-12 are the dates – for interactive presentations on publishing, design and branding, tools, analytics, social networking, marketing, coaching and all forms of relationship geekery.

4. offers a useful, free mind-mapping tool that can quickly become addictive. I have only used it for personal brainstorming so far, and I look forward to using it for collaboration. [Shout out to Steve for the tip.]

5. A single person, a small group, even an online learning community, can initiate actions that ripple through their environment. I’ve learned this before, but reminders of the big impact of small actions were everywhere this month. The gift of a single red rose; scraping ice from a stranger’s windshield; reaching out to a friend who was traveling during the year-end holidays; leaving a comment for the first time on a favorite blog.

Rosa Say started Rapid Fire Learning (RFL) in January 2007 at Joyful Jubilant Learning.

Please share your own RFL 5 things you learned this February – in comments below, over at JJL, or in a post on your blog (and remember to trackback!).

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Team charters provide roadmaps for teamwork

February 6, 2007

The folks over at MindTools have a clear, concise explanation of how and when to use Team Charters.

Team Charters are documents that define the purpose of the team, how it will work, and what the expected outcomes are. They are “roadmaps” that the team and its sponsors create at the beginning of the journey to make sure that all involved are clear about where they’re heading, and to give direction when times get tough.

roadmap.jpg To create this road map, the article recommends adapting six elements to your team’s situation.

  1. Context
  2. Mission and Objectives
  3. Composition and Roles
  4. Authority and Boundaries
  5. Resources and Support
  6. Operations
  7. Negotiation and Agreement

These are pretty basic elements that will affect most teams no matter the objectives. Depending on the size of the team and the project, Team Charters can be fairly formal, or as simple as a meeting minutes. The key is to openly discuss and come to mutual agreements in advance about how the team will function.

By negotiating a Team Charter at the outset of a project, you set up team projects for success. You ensure that everyone understands why the project needs to be carried out, knows what the objectives and measures of success are, and knows who is doing what, with what resources.

More than this, by negotiating the Charter assertively, all parties can shape the project so that it stands a good chance of success, and commit wholeheartedly to the project’s success.

Commitment rises exponentially when all team members have a voice in team operations. More experienced members often help head-off problems that their previous teams have faced. Newer members often have fresh ideas that help invigorate the whole team.

Have you used something like a team charter before? I’d like to hear about it.

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Simple Signals to Improve Teamwork

November 22, 2006

Lessons from the Cafe

Steve Sherlock at Tertiary Education shared a short story about the importance of providing signals in collaborative teamwork environments. The story, which comes from Jonathan Tisch’s book The Power of We, relates how Emeril Legasse of the Food Network used the position of salt and pepper shakers (of all things) on restaurant tables for sending signals between members of the wait staff.

Steve’s post inspired to Rosa Say to post about how little things she learned in restaurants hold valuable lessons for collaboration.

The story takes me back to thinking about the simple lessons I had learned about silent but effective signals while waitressing and how many there were; indeed, the restaurant business was a terrific training ground for me.

As I commented for Steve on his posting, we can get stuck at times thinking that we need big ideas, when all we really need is the consistent execution of small ones.

I used a small signally practice during my days in the restaurant business that has applications for teamwork in all settings.

Crash Avoidance

Some of the worst disasters in restaurants occur when two team members bump crash into one another. Whether cooks, waiters or bartenders, the result is usually that people get messy, product is wasted, customers are disadvantaged and tempers flair.

Despite these severe consequences, one restaurant I became responsible for averaged at least one such incident per shift. These mishaps were symptoms of a greater underlying lack-of-teamwork problem. The entire staff had fallen to a pattern of looking out for themselves, which made them unaware of each others needs, or even physical location.

Building a culture of teamwork took some time, but one small practice we adopted helped to substantially reduce the crashes almost immediately.

“Behind you.” “Coming Around.”

“Coming in.” “Coming out.” (Such as in or out of a food pick-up area or beverage station.)

These four simple phrases, when spoken openly to restaurant teammates in tight spaces, served to signal others of one’s physical location and to declare one’s intentions for movement. Once someone learned the intentions of their teammates, they could adjust their actions accordingly, thereby avoiding costly missteps. Within weeks, the formerly routine crashes became a rarity.

Applications for Other Teams

While we may not worry about physical crashes on teams in other businesses, I still find a valuable lesson from the restaurant signally system.

When team members proactively inform each other of their current status and near-term intentions, adjustments can be made to better support the efforts and avoid counterproductive conflict.

Teams can decide what mode of communication is preferred, such as email, verbal, daily stand-up meetings, etc. The key, however, is for a team to communicate frequently, as events unfold, because the pace of change may make waiting for the next team meeting too late.

I’d like to hear from others. What are the signalling techniques your teams use to communicate about each others status and near-term intentions?

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