During my career, I’ve often worked at rapid-growth companies, where teams increase in size quickly. I’ve been offered roles in companies where the engineering population has doubled from 90 to 180 in less than 9 months, and I’ve dealt with challenges in leading teams and creating coherence and alignment when working with people who may have great qualifications but are unfamiliar with the way things work in that specific company..
In this blog post, I’m going to cover some thoughts on how you can best help new joiners become an effective part of the team as quickly and as painlessly as possible. We’ll talk about some things you can do if you really are doubling in size quickly, as well as if you’re hiring at a more modest pace. I’m mainly going to focus on desk workers, but some of this can be applied more generally.
In at the deep end: the onboarding plan
If a new joiner is not supported as they learn the ropes, you have a recipe for an unhappy new employee, unhappy teammates, and a manager who’s not viewed in a very good light. I generally have found success in getting hiring managers to write an onboarding plan, that covers four main things:
- What the new joiner should be seeking to accomplish during the first day, first week, first month, and first 90 days. This should cover not only training, but also their contribution.
- How the team is structured and who they should prioritize meeting within the team to get up to speed. Ideally, some of the meetings will have been set up in advance of their first day.
- Outside of their immediate team, the key people across the company that it will be important for them to know to get their work done.
- What standard meetings and events are happening that they will be expected to be part of.
If you have a manager who doesn’t know what the new hire should be working on, what they need to deliver to be successful, or who they will be working with, then you have someone who shouldn’t be that new hire’s manager!
Doozy is a great tool to help with points 2 and 3, and I’ve found using both Doozy matchmaking (usually within a team) and Coffee Roulette (within larger teams and across teams) really nice lightweight ways to get introductions covered in an effective way. For standard large team events, such as all-hands, or weekly/monthly meetings, ice breakers and virtual team events are fantastic.
Solve the big problems
If your team is going to grow rapidly, then there’s two problems you need to solve.
Optimize for onboarding. This means striving to make things easier for new employees first and foremost. A great start is ensuring documentation is always up to date and correct. I try to create a culture of ‘leave it better than you found it’ and make new joiners responsible for editing wikis or other onboarding documents to improve them for the next person. Existing employees may see this as a tax – that documentation wasn’t in such good shape for them! – so it’s important to call out and reward this kind of internal work. Just as it’s better to delete lines of code and simplify rather than just add complexity, you have to create a culture where helping others be better is visibly rewarded.
Define and develop team culture. Teams are different when they’re 2 people, 7 people, 25 people, 75 people and 150 people. Working to define team culture in actionable ways is really important – and getting the team involved in this is crucial. I’ve worked at companies that had leadership principles like Teamwork and Collaboration, which are … obvious but not actionable. I’ve also worked at companies that work hard to operationalize their culture – through leadership principles that are lived and used every day. Creating this culture is more than just writing things down. It’s about participation and leading by example.
Doozy quizzes, trivia and games are a great way to have team members visibly see each other and collaborate (or compete!) on something that’s not work related, but in which the values that are important to you can still come through. From celebrating birthdays and holidays, to a regular quiz night with icebreakers sprinkled in, teammates don’t just stay one-dimensional (‘Jane in accounts receivable’) but instead lead you to discover Jane’s commitment and drive in training for a triathlon, helping you understand why she’s such a good fit for the team, and someone you can trust to follow through, even if the going gets tough.
Finish with feedback
A final note on the new joiner experience. I always say that any system without a feedback loop is open to chaos. We’ve all experienced an issue with a product that eventually gets fixed for us, but we’re left feeling like the issue is just going to happen again because no-one is taking feedback and making the right changes. So as part of your new hire onboarding, make sure you take feedback or give them a survey, to help understand how things might be better. Even if you can’t fix anything, just asking for feedback is a great message to send to the new hire.
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Mike Smith is an advisor to Doozy who's worked at Amazon, Google, Microsoft and a number of other companies and startups. He's been around the block a few times when it comes to managing teams and getting great results.