I have recently had the great opportunity to join a Chamber choir in my hometown. Yes, I know that reflects the tremendously exciting life that I live, but it’s fun. It’s also an interesting study in how groups work. In fact, the similarities to this highly talented, but volunteer group are amazing when you compare them to the work place. See if you can relate:
This choir has been together for many years and has a really tight group of very talented singers. On an individual basis, each of them is a truly delightful person. But as a group, there is a “membership effect” that makes it difficult for new members to assimilate.
For one thing, a fairly large percentage of their repertoire is made up of songs that have been performed at some point in the past. This common experience prompts reminiscing which, by definition, excludes anybody who was not around when the piece was originally added to the list.
There are also many rules that are not formally presented in any way but are discovered with time. Some are small rules—when to open the folder, when to sit during a performance, or whether or not a bottle of water can be on stage. Some are large rules—do we actually start rehearsal on time, how do you speak to the conductor, how hard do you practice.
Learning all of these rules is part of becoming a member of the group. The more forthcoming group members are about the rules, the faster a new person becomes a member of the tribe. The harder it is to determine what are the norms of the group, the harder it is to be accepted.
How many barriers do you have in accepting a new member to your team? More importantly, do you have time for a long acclimation process or do you need them to be collaborating and working with each other quickly? Chances are, if you leave the team to it’s own devices, the assimilation of new talent can be a long and costly process. The longer it takes, the more the new member questions whether or not this is a team they want to run with. One of the first rules of any organized group of people is to preserve their identity. A new member challenges that preservation.
Orientations are great and you should keep doing them in order to let the new people know what the basic rules, policies and procedures for their position are. Even more important is to arrange opportunities for the new folks to learn the hidden rules. If you’re the boss, some of these rules will be hidden from you as well since your membership is specified by a role.
Arrange time for lunch or dinner between new team members and the rest of the team. Don’t gang-team them though…as a group the members will be more likely to inadvertently show how different they are rather than similar to the new person. Arrange for some casual one-on-one team with various members of the team and the newbie. If you really want to do it right, figure out who the leader of the tribe actually is (it’s not you by the way) and make sure that this person gets some alone time with the new member.
As the leader of the team, you can’t really force the process of assimilation of new members. You can, however, create an environment where new members are welcome and given every opportunity to connect with not only the team, but the individual members on the team. It may take a little time, but it will pay off in employee satisfaction and productivity fairly quickly.