Joining a new team can be anxiety inducing for lots of reasons. Even the most confident newbies can find themselves wondering, “Will my work be valued? Will I be competent? Will I even be liked?” Existing team members may have concerns of their own. Perhaps a friend left (or was let go) and the new hire is taking their place–so the latter might be seen as a threat, especially if she has experience or skills others don’t.
When you factor in all these interpersonal pitfalls with the time and productivity costs of bringing someone new up to speed, effective onboarding can seem like a delicate undertaking, to say the least. And it often is. But the best way to go about it might actually be the most counterintuitive: Ask your newbies to onboard other newbies. Here’s why.
Why Veterans Might Be Overrated Onboarders
Bringing any new employee into a team should be considered a project. Just as important as teaching job skills is instilling an understanding of where the person’s work (and the team’s) fits into the big picture. Think of it as applying the red dot at the mall that says, “You are here.”
Most of the time, employers reasonably assign veterans, who have plenty of experience with who’s who and how things work, to handle that process. But they’re by no means the only ones who are qualified to do it.
Instead, asking a relatively new person to tackle a big project like onboarding helps them continue to learn and grow; in fact, it pretty much forces them to ask more experienced people on the team for help. It might seem risky to put a newbie in charge of introducing another new hire to the organization. But offsetting any risks that they’ll give inaccurate information, for instance (they might, and it’s usually easy to rectify), is the likelihood that they’ll see things with fresh eyes. They’ll know how to point things out that a veteran might take for granted.
What’s more, building a network (including just making work friends) is vital in bonding a person to their new organization and getting them up to speed quickly–even though this particular task might take a fellow newbie longer to complete than it would an old hand.
How Newbies Can Help
A great practice we’ve seen lately is asking a new employee to create a how-to video on an important process to put on your intranet, or at the very least, to show to other new people when they come on board. These three- to-four–minute instructional videos can be filmed on a smartphone and edited easily with software that’s on most laptops. It’s a handy way to deliver critical information for getting started and being successful at a specific activity, job process, customer service task, sales practice, or so on.
Another great way to make sure new people really feel free to ask all the questions they have is to assign another new member of the team to be their guide. It’s long been a practice to have senior employees to mentor new hires, but our study into today’s most effective teams shows many leaders are switching up this approach. After all, who understands the challenges of integrating into a new environment better than a fellow newbie does?
This doesn’t need to be an intensive process, either. The guide simply stops by the new employee’s workspace on their first day to trade introductions, then makes plans to grab lunch together that first week. While the team manager will introduce the new employee to the rest of the team and explain the reasons for the person’s hiring, the guide’s job is simply to show the employee around the larger organization, make introductions into other departments, and be available to answer questions that might seem too simplistic or even embarrassing to ask to others.
Keeping it informal with periodic check-ins helps avoid the stressful impression of a hardcore training regimen. Over the following weeks and months, the pair of newbies can periodically meet for coffee, and the guide can invite the new hire to business and social events. The guide isn’t necessarily expected to be a subject-matter expert–and that’s the point. Sometimes you just need a social concierge, so to speak, who can help you ease into a fast-paced environment–because they’re sort of still doing the same thing themselves.
Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton are New York Times bestselling authors. Their latest book The Best Team Wins: The New Science of High Performance was published by Simon & Schuster on February 13, 2018.