IN PRACTICE: Mutuality

Contributed by Fully Alive in Practice

90-Minute process for onboarding new team members, designed for mutuality

When I joined a new team, my director reached out to welcome me in a way I had never seen before. 

She asked me to lunch to get to know each other more and share our working styles. This was something she said she did with all new people, a way to onboard. Right away, my anxiety about the unknown of moving to a new team started to ease.

Shortly thereafter, I received a meeting invite for a 90-minute lunch date at a local restaurant outside of the office with her for a week later. Ahead of the lunch date, she sent me her questions, so I could have time to prepare and think about what I would like to share (to be completely 💯, lots of time has passed, laptops upgraded & memory deteriorated, but this is close):

  1. What are your strengths that I should know about?
  2. What are some areas of development you’d like me to be aware of?
  3. What would be most helpful to you as we start working together?
  4. What motivates you, within reason?
  5. Most people like to be recognized in different ways. What are some ways that you prefer to be recognized?
  6. What is keeping you up at night?
  7. Everyone has things that really bug them. What hot spots should I know about?
  8. What else should I be hearing or considering as we work together?

“Wow,” I thought. “She is a manager who really cares. I’m looking forward to getting to know her.” But, I also was a bit nervous. How direct, transparent, honest should I be? 

It turned out to not just be a one-way exchange where I gave her information. Instead, we did a full back and forth about our own approach to these questions. So not only did she learn about me, I learned about her as well. It made for mutual understanding and trust, which made for a great foundation for our work. 

I felt very seen, supported, and cared for during our time together, and for the years I worked in her team. And, perhaps even more importantly, I felt like I grew and developed in the areas we discussed in that first meeting because of this early exchange. 

So I used it myself. 

After that experience, any time anyone joined my team, I borrowed her process and questions hoping that others would find it of value.  Sometimes people came prepared. Sometimes they didn’t.  Most of them let me know directly or indirectly (through employee engagement surveys) how much this discussion was a helpful way to kick off our relationship.  

In practice, that looked like…

  1. One person shared with me that it really bugged her to be called a member of a “staff.”  She found that too hierarchical and that she wanted to be valued as a member of the team.  I took that to heart, changed my weekly staff meetings to team meetings, and reframed how I talked to the rest of the team to reflect the new verbiage.  That was an easy and insightful change.
  2. Another person suggested that as we have development conversations, it would be easier for her if I said, “I have some advice for you” vs. “I have some feedback for you.”  This is because she was a musician, and feedback is the horrible high-pitched sound of the speaker when the mic is too close to it.  It makes one cringe.  Again, this was a change in language that, once I was aware of, I could implement and made our conversations more productive.  
  3. Last, I kept a working document for each of these new joiners to my team.  When I was thinking about how to reward and recognize, motivate, or coach him/her, I would refer back to that document and put myself in his/her shoes as best I could.  

Over the years, as I’ve followed Onlyness, I have realized that this was a way for that long-ago manager to seek and support me in my Onlyness.  It feels so good to pay it forward and do the same with others.  

So I am sharing it here as a guest columnist and hope if it’s useful. If it is, maybe pass it on?

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