Introducing New Remote Team Members Into the Herd

Last Updated Jun 14, 2010 6:45 AM EDT

Bringing a new person into your team is never easy. It's even harder when that person works remotely and won't have the chance to physically mingle with their new teammates any time soon. Personalities can clash, trust doesn't come easily and cliques are hard to break into. I was looking for some elegant model to make the point, but then I found the perfect business model. Goat farmers. Really.

While idly surfing one day, I came across a blog post by a homesteader named Sherry Tomfeld. She had a picture slide show of the process of introducing a new goat to her herd and the process farmers have used for thousands of years to bring an outsider (literally) into the fold. I'll walk you through the steps, you tell me it doesn't apply to your workplace.

  • A new goat is brought in, and the existing herd huddles closer together, just watching him (or her). No one moves for the longest time. There's some polite head nodding and sniffing, but nothing dramatic. Think of it as the obligatory introduction on the weekly conference call. No one is impressed with the newcomer yet.
  • They follow him from a distance for a while, which freaks the new goat out at first. They mean no harm, but they're not ready to make him part of the herd yet, either. It's frustrating but it's a natural part of the process. Oh sure, someone might make a polite request for information or two, but for something really important people will go to those they know and trust. Let's see what the guy's got before I bet my deadline on him.
  • Finally, the oldest of the herd (not necessarily the alpha goat, more like the billy goat equivalent of that woman on your team who has been there forever and knows everyone in every department) lets the new goat eat next to her. Well if Joanne thinks he's okay....
  • The other goats now let the new kid hang around, although there is some occasional head butting. It's amazing how often the new critter has no problem knocking a cocky incumbent on their hindquarters and establishing their place. Who does he think he is to shoot down my ideal like that? Sure, he was right, but still...
  • It's noisy, chaotic and a little scary looking from a distance, but the farmer knows better than to step in. it's all part of the process and real injury is rare. In fact, meddling can prolong the integration process.
If none of this sounds relevant to the organization you work in, you're really not paying attention. You can create conditions that help speed up the process a bit. Try allowing people to display their strengths to the rest of the herd (sorry, team) and suggest people go to each other for information instead of coming to you. At the end of the day, though, the members of your team will have to sniff, butt heads and build trust the old fashioned way.

photo by flickr user ynskjen CC 2.0