Leadership & Culture

A twist of culture with every new person in the team

In every healthy Organisation there are situations where new people join a team. How do you bring these people on board? Which effect does that have on a team’s culture?

In every healthy Organisation there are situations where new people join a team. How do you bring these people on board?

Ideally, every new joiner is going through a structured onboarding process. Mainly these focus on organizational setup and functional topics such as processes, application software, strategy.

What is rarely an explicit part of the onboarding process is the culture of the team and the organization. Culture is mainly a shared set of values among the team members. It is expressed in the behaviors and interactions – among the team members, with peers, or others above or below in the hierarchy.

Every new joiner brings in their own set of believes, values, experiences. their own sub-culture. If the cultures have a common ground, this can be enriching. People can learn from each other, grow and develop an evolved culture together.

But what if the cultural fit is not given? In the beginning people try more or less to observe what is already there (in Tuckman‘s model of team development, this is the Forming phase). Differences between the new joiner and the existing team may not surface easily. But over time there can be signals: Does the way you interact with each other change? Does the way you have discussions or take decisions change? Do you hear louder words or more disagreements? Is there even a fight about power or leadership? A bad feeling in your stomach? This is the storming phase. A completely normal phase of team building. For everyone to find the place in the team, the team has to be broken up (slightly or completely, depending on the characters in the team) and then put together in a new way. Old ways and habits are challenged, decisions are being questioned.

In this phase the team’s culture is in distress. This can be a good thing if the culture was a toxic one. It can be time for a new start. And maybe this was even the reason why the new team members came on board.

But what if you join a functioning or a high performing team? These teams have already climbed up Lencioni’s pyramid of team dysfunctions. They have a trustful relationship, can go into productive conflict together and commit to the common goals and approaches. To come to this level is hard work and requires constant focus and commitment of the team. If someone new joins the team they are trusted and welcomed openly into the team ideally. The team is convinced that they have a good way of working and that every new joiner would see, understand and join this. This perspective is in conflict with the phases of team development. The team has to go through them. If you are a trustful, open team, this may hit you even worse because your shields are down. You don’t expect someone to question the way you work.

Therefore it is important to be aware that the storming phase will hit you. And to be prepared:

First, in your onboarding include also the team culture, the behaviors, the habits the rituals you have. Explain what is happening in specific meetings beforehand , so that the new member knows what to expect and does not have to feel exposed due to unawareness. And most important: explain why this is happening. What do you want to achieve with this. Why is a certain value important for you? What led you to this realization? Share your journey of enlightenment.

And second: don’t let these phases of team development happen uncontrolled. Lead through them – yourself as the leader of this group or approach this challenging time with the help of external coaches who guide you through these phases and help establish a team culture where every member feels comfortable in their individual role and their role in the team.

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