Onboarding a new team member

Photo by Vlad Hilitanu on Unsplash

In one of my previous stories I had written about supportive culture. One of the high level points I spoke about was the importance of on-boarding new members to the team. In this story I will try to elaborate on specific points about it based on my experience.

Given the completely remote situation we were pushed into recently due to the pandemic, the organisation on the whole had to onboard a lot of folks remotely and we in our team had to do the same. I am listing out a few pointers I took from this experience. Most of these pointers are for the lead or manager of the team and some of them are for the whole team. If you are following some or all of these tips already, that’s great. And if there are more, please let me know in the comment section.

Tracking progress

First of all, there must be an on-boarding document in place which talks about all the tasks needed for the new team member to ramp up. This must include basic setup needed, sessions to be conducted, details of tech support etc. And, most importantly there needs to be a way to track all these steps. Tracking progress is very important to make sure everyone’s on the same page and blockers can be identified. In fact, tracking progress should be done collectively by the lead/manager and the new team member themselves, to share the onus.

Sessions

The team needs to come up with a set of sessions which are a must for the new member of the team. There should be a living document with the list of sessions which covers all the major areas of the project: the overall architecture, major modules, interactions, logging, monitoring, support etc. Everyone in the team must be involved in conducting these sessions with the tasks assigned to each person. This not only ensures that the whole team takes responsibility to onboard the new member, but it helps to build good relationships from the beginning. Additionally, in the remote scenario it would help if two people pair on taking the session. Also, due to the remote nature taking feedback for the sessions is also necessary to make sure of the efficiency of the knowledge transfer

Documentation

Detailed documentation of the various features and moving parts of the project is important to be able to onboard anyone new to the team. The whole team must take on the responsibility of making sure that the documentation is up to date. One great way of doing this is to add a specific documentation task for any new feature and track its completion. The new team member can also be requested to add or edit documentation based on the sessions they attended. This will help onboard future team members.

Buddy

I have experienced that assigning a buddy from the existing team to the new member is a great way to get them up-to-speed fast. The lead/manager needs to understand that the selection of the right buddy is very important. The buddy should be able to make the new team member feel comfortable and help them in a friendly way rather than intimidate them.

One-on-one catchups

The buddy will do a great job of making sure that the new team member is getting all the help they need and feel comfortable in the new environment. But additionally, the lead/manager must schedule regular catch-ups (say, weekly) to understand their progress and to address any issues and/or blockers.

Open conversations

Make sure that the conversations, work-related or otherwise, are open and transparent so that the new team member can feel like they are a part of the team. Make sure that newcomers are encouraged to ask questions. In the first few days, I would also recommend using a few mins at the start of meetings or discussions to give context about the topic at hand. Doing this proactively definitely helps newcomers to ramp up faster.

Give them time

Finally, it is important to understand that each person has a different pace of learning and adjusting in a new environment based on their backgrounds and personalities. So we must give a reasonable amount of time to new comers to able to settle down and show the team their value. Unnecessary pressure must be taken off table.

The above tips are a few initiatives required from the team’s perspective. But if you are on the other side, that is, you are an individual who is joining a new team/organisation, a lot of onus lies on you too to be able to ramp up fast. If thats the case, you can find some tips here for the same.

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