The idea of helping your new team members develop friendships with their coworkers might seem too warm and fuzzy. But it isn’t. Not only should making friends be a crucial part of every onboarding process, it’s actually something that managers need to get involved with directly. Here’s why.
Why New Hires Need New Friends
In a 2005 Babson College study of onboarding practices, researchers found that new hires who got up and running quickly and successfully were better at building strong networks than their less newbies did.
One of the companies studied was a global energy firm. The researchers found that while most of the firm’s new hires communicated regularly with only a few colleagues–mostly within their own teams–one new hire, Jake, “quickly become a central player.” He established solid connections with many more members of the team and others outside his group, and became a valuable source of information, effectively tapping all the new people he met for what he needed.
Some people, like Jake, are simply better at developing personal networks quickly, which might suggest that it isn’t a manager’s job to encourage this. But the Babson researchers argue that actually the lesson here is the reverse: Leaders who most successfully onboard people take what they call a “relational approach” to the task, actively assisting new team members in creating those all-important social bonds right from the get-go.
Those findings were backed up by a remarkable 2012 study at MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory. Researchers studied the communication patterns among high-performing teams versus lower-performing ones. What they found, somewhat unsurprisingly, is that social ties like friendship at work were crucial to performance. Friendships at work foster not only stronger communication, but stronger bonds to and within the organization overall.
The antithesis of this is a team made up of loners, people who don’t feel connected to those around them. Detached employees are much more likely to be disconnected from their organizations. That’s never a good thing, and the best time to prevent it from happening is right away when a new hire is starting to get settled.
Bosses As Social Matchmakers
Creating bonds of affiliation isn’t usually considered part of a manager’s job description. But consider the striking increase in team performance that the MIT researchers noted at one bank call center, which simply had everyone on the team take coffee breaks together, versus the standard practice of staggering break times. That decision was admittedly a pain for managers–having to redirect calls to other areas and cross-training other groups on their client needs to cover them effectively–but something extraordinary happened. A key measure of the center’s productivity–the average hold time for calls–dropped by more than 20% for the teams that had been the lowest-performing, and 8% overall. Employee satisfaction scores also rose dramatically.
Management was so impressed that this unassuming change could produce such dramatic results that the bank decided to change break schedules at all 10 of its call centers and anticipated a companywide boost in productivity as a result. Admittedly, this is a case study of one call center in one bank, but it does suggest that stronger social relationships within a team can help improve information flow and morale–and that, as a result, managers themselves need to encourage those social bonds directly.
Give Your Newbies A Group Project
So if managers should help their new hires build these relationships faster and earlier, what’s the best way to go about it? One simple tweak to the onboarding process is an obvious first step: Assign new team members a task that requires them to meet others.
When you bring a new person into your team, give them a job or project that demands they reach out to at least several other people on their team and around the organization–something that they can’t possibly complete alone. It might seem counterintuitive to give a newbie a wide-sweeping task, but creating a network is vital in bonding a person to the organization and getting up to speed faster, even though that might take them longer to do since they’re starting from square one.
One vice president we spoke with does this to get her new hires off their “islands,” as she put it. She recalled one new manager who joined her team: “I have a very extroverted management style, but the new guy had a very introverted style,” she said. The manager’s style seemed similar to another company executive, “So I sent him to spend a couple of days with that leader, shadowing him, sitting in his meetings, helping learn how that kind of leadership style could be really successful,” she told us.
The effort paid off. Her new hire formed a crucial relationship in the organization early on, which helped him ramp up fast. That, of course, benefited not just him but the entire team.
This article is adapted from The Best Team Wins: The New Science of High Performance by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton. Copyright © 2018 by Gostick & Elton, IP, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.