A Growth-Oriented Approach to Onboarding New Teammates

Change in the middle of development can be a painful time for a project. Adding a new member to the team can change the dynamic, the skillset, and even the methodology for how work gets done. Joining a team in the middle of development can be stressful, as you feel pressured to get up to speed and start working quickly.

And yet, the addition of one or more team members provides an excellent opportunity for growth! It allows you to slow down for a moment, do some introspection as a team, and identify places you can improve. Here are three steps you should take when onboarding a new team member in order to help your team grow for the better.

1. Walk Through the Whole Project

A high-level walkthrough of the entire project sounds a little overwhelming. Maybe it would be better to just show our new teammate a section of the codebase or outline the specific goals of this current sprint. They’ll be able to get context for the project as a whole through context clues, right?

That certainly is possible, and smart people will put their best effort into learning on the fly. But if you really want your new teammate to be valuable to the project quickly, you’ll delay their dive into the codebase by just a few more hours.

Take the time to make sure the new member understands the business needs and goals of your project. This will prevent them from incorrectly inferring certain goals or motivators, and it will give you a chance to reiterate this shared vision to the rest of the team, bringing anyone who may have been out of alignment back into focus.

Haven’t had a team-wide meeting about the team’s goals and the steps you will take to get there? There’s no better time to start that avenue of communication than when you’re onboarding a new team member.

2. Leverage Their Fresh Eyes

One of the biggest values you will gain from a new teammate as they join your project is their questions.

“Why do we do it like this? Couldn’t we do it like that?”
“What value is provided by this story?”
“Do you know about library X, which could make this process faster?”

When you are on a project for a long time, it’s easy to get accustomed to aspects of the project that might not be ideal. Maybe the team is a little lax with refactoring code regularly. Maybe you let the regular sprint cadence slide for the sake of getting a little more work done. Perhaps there’s a bit of inefficient code that made it through peer review, and nobody’s looked at it since. A fresh set of eyes might notice these issues.

Make sure new team members feel safe enough to point these things out. Joining a new team is intimidating and overwhelming; it could be easy for your new teammate to not want to rock the boat by pointing out things that could be improved. Actively invite their thoughts and perspectives. They will find problems that you didn’t even know were problems. Use their adjustment period as a time to get as much of an outsider’s view on your project as you possibly can. Then work hard to address the blindspots they find.

3. Listen to New Ideas

Every team develops its own ways of doing things. You have a sprint cadence, a retro setup, even standards for pairing and knowledge sharing on the team.

New team members join the team with their own experiences, ideas, and processes. I’m not saying that you should immediately shift your workflow to adopt all of the newest ideas. But sometimes, a new team member will bring a process or pattern that could hugely improve some quality of life aspects for your team. Give them the chance to do that!

If your new team member voices new ideas from their past experiences, listen to them. Hear their ideas. Discuss the pros and cons with the whole team, and decide together if it’s worth trying out.

Don’t Miss this Opportunity

Onboarding a new team member is a large shift for a project, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. If leveraged correctly, it can prompt an excellent amount of growth and ownership.

Welcome your new team member; give them the context for the entire project. Then listen to the concerns that they bring with their fresh eyes. Before you know it, they’ll be up to speed, and your team will be better for their presence.