Nice to meet you…

Do you take the time to properly introduce yourself to new team members? I’d like to suggest that a simple practice can help set new team members at ease and let them quickly settle into their new jobs and start focusing on the work at hand.

Hopefully by now you should know the importance of creating an environment where your team can form not just professional relationships, but real friendships. As far as whether a leader should try to be friends with their team, there are arguments on both sides. I personally say that the power dynamic is not going to allow you to be close friends with your employees. This shouldn’t stop you from building a relationship of trust, support and openness that is, in many ways very similar to friendship.

I’ve stumbled onto a simple onboarding practice that helps kick-start that relationship. I’ve not met any other manager who does this, and I’ve received positive feedback from every employee I’ve subjected to this exercise. But before I get into it I’ll explain the two main factors that led to my doing this as I onboard employees.

First, an experience as an employee: I’ll change the details to protect the innocent, but the heart of this is a true story. I worked for a manager named (ahem, not his real name, see above) Charlie. In almost a year of working for Charlie, I managed to discern the following details of his personal life: he had served in the Navy, and his son fenced competitively (again, not actually true, but close enough to give you the idea). Yep. That’s all that I had to show for a year of reporting to him. As someone who knows nothing about fencing and has never served in any military branch, this is a remarkably thin bit of information on which I would try, and generally fail, to base a conversation when we were say, in an elevator together. (It would require an altogether different post to discuss the reasons that I let this happen, but for now I’ll sum it up under the category of “mistakes I have learned from”.)

Flash forward a few years, when I found myself inheriting an offshore team of 10 or so employees. I scheduled a trip to meet them in person, but I had one week and a lot to accomplish. I had to quickly get to know the team — well enough so that I could reasonably ask them to work with me on significant changes to the way they worked. In short I needed to show up in a foreign city, earn the trust of 10 people, and move on to solving problems, in less than one week. I knew that this had to start with a one-on-one conversation, where I could introduce myself and ask questions to get to know each member of the team. And I wanted them to know me, not to be in a position where they where trying to think of an interesting question about fencing. To shortcut this process I built a presentation introducing myself and the things that matter to me. Basically a slide show introducing myself, my family, my interests and a bit about my work history, approach etc. This let me get through the “me talking” part all up front, to the entire team, so that during my 1:1s, I could jump right into asking questions to get to know each member of the team during our time together. This in turn meant that by afternoon of day 2 of my visit the entire team could jump into real discussion about how we could work together.

A few weeks later, I found myself getting to know a new employee in my office. As I started to introduce myself and talk about my family, I realized I could use those same slides to show pictures of my family, and I called it up. And then a slide about my favorite books came up, and I answered a question about that, and before I knew it, I had gone through the presentation on a one on one basis. I’ve done it ever since. It’s a bit awkward, but it does actually help keep me focused, and time-boxes what would otherwise be a rambling monologue about myself. Of course that’s not the end of the conversation — it’s just as important for me to try to learn a bit about the person sitting at the other side of the desk, which generally involves some questions as we go, followed by “tell me something about yourself”.

So give it a try, and see if your new hires like it, then let me know in the comments!

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