3 Tips for Onboarding New Team Members

Last Updated Mar 25, 2010 7:04 AM EDT

Bringing a new person onto the team in the middle of a project, or once a team is up and running, can be tricky. In fact, it's like a kid moving to a new school in the middle of the semester -- they don't know who's who and aren't sure where to go to for answers except the teacher (in this case, you the manager). Who are the cool kids and who shouldn't they align themselves with? How do they to get their homework done and prepare for next week's quiz when they don't even know where the lockers are?

As the manager, you want to bring that person up to speed as quickly as possible. The faster they assimilate into the group, the faster and better the work will get done -- and the fast your life will get a bit easier. Here are three lessons I learned from changing schools as a kid that also apply to the virtual workplace (which is really just middle school with a paycheck):

  1. Get them a buddy or two. On a newbie's first day of school, most schools try to find them a "buddy" -- someone who knows the lay of the land and can show them around. Managers sometimes try to do this mentoring themselves, but it takes valuable time from the project and doesn't help team members get to know each other quickly. Instead, leverage the knowledge of your experienced people and assign a couple of mentors to new employees. Better yet, make sure they're from different functions, so that the newbie gets a broad view of the project and doesn't get sucked into cliques.
  2. Show them why things work like they do. Most managers know that a team has to be on the same page at the outset of a project. But people coming in part way through sometimes get assigned the tasks without being shown the big picture. Help new team members understand where their work fits in and why you do things the way you do before assigning the work. This will ensure that their efforts are aligned with the team goals, and their work and suggestions will be accepted by the others more quickly because it will be in line with what they're all doing.
  3. Help them get established early. Every new team member is suspect until they've proven themselves, so give them opportunities to show what they can do. They should get their feet under them -- but don't let it take too long. As soon as you feel they're comfortable in the role, encourage them to take the lead in a meeting. Have them teach your team members something they learned at their last job. Ask them to post something to the team wiki or suggest that they volunteer to help with a problem. The sooner the others know what this new addition can do, and that they're willing to pitch in, the sooner the new kid will start to fit in.
So welcome team additions the way you would greet a nervous new kid on their first day of school. Just don't let their mother walk them to the door and hand over their lunch, or they might get stuffed in a locker. (Don't ask me how I know, just trust me.)