Applied EQ4PM #2 – Integrating New Project Team Members

Adding new members to a team is a frequent occurrence.  As projects start up, we staff them up gradually following a predictable staffing curve. And on existing projects, turnover and planned growth will cause the addition of new team members.  We can either do this well, and maximize the benefit of the additional team member, or do this poorly and kill the team’s productivity.

Applying Emotional Intelligence Techniques

Applying emotional intelligence techniques includes assessing the emotions of the new team member and managing those emotions.  It also includes the project manager’s emotional leadership of the team.  We will address the one-on-one relationship issues in this post and save the team leadership for a future post.

When people arrive on a project, they are generally feeling both excited and scared.  Excited about the opportunity to try something new.  And scared about a whole host of questions including; am I smart enough, was this the right move, will people discover how inadequate I feel most of the time, will I fail, will I be asked to do something I don’t know about, am I going to fit in, will I be able to keep this position and feed my family, and the like.

New resources may also be angry with themselves for taking the job.  Perhaps they were asking for more salary, wanted a different position, or did not feel that had other choices so resigned themselves to this position.  Left unattended, this anger can cause negative outcomes.

This combination of excitement, fear and even anger can be dangerous.  Resources may be on the job physically, but emotionally they are looking for any reason they can find to escape from the project.  If not managed well, the emotions can produce energy that will result in leaving the project.

The Wrong Approach – Lack of Preparation Maximizes Negative Emotions

Project teams and managers can either improve or worsen this situation by the way that they welcome and integrate new team members.  Some projects treat new members like pledges at a fraternity.  The team either ignores the new team member or just gives them some busy work to keep them out of the way of the real work of the project.  Everyone is too busy working to take the time out to help the new person ramp up.  For many teams, the standard operating procedure is to put them in a corner with a bunch of binders of documentation for a couple of days and see how they do.

The problem that I frequently see is that the team has not prepared for the new resource to hit the ground running.  It sometimes seems like teams have prepared for exactly the opposite; as if they want to prevent any work from getting done in the first few days.  It is amazing to me that new members show up and find that there are not network signons, PC’s, phones, or any of the other tools IT professionals need to be productive on the first day.  They might also have no one there to welcome them, check on them, or help them feel part of the team.

A new team member in this type of situation will often respond in undesirable but predictable ways.  They will feel that their worst fears about the project are confirmed and wonder why they even took the position.  With spare time on their hands, they might start surfing for a new job, call a recruiter about another position they had been eyeing, or start instant messaging their buddies from their previous job.  Emotionally, they are checking out of your project.

Better Approach – Assess and Manage Emotions

You can expect that your new team members will have a mix of emotions about your project including feeling excited, scared, and even angry. You should work to determine as best you can exactly what emotions they are feeling since they they probably won’t tell you directly. Capitalize on the excitement they have and use that energy to get some work done. Address the fear head on by helping them to understand what they are responsible for, who will help them when they run into problems, and by helping them get to know others on the project. Help them to see that joining the project was a good move for them to counter any feelings of anger they may be experiencing.

Here are some specific steps to integrate new team members and get them productive quickly:

  1. Select Well. With the high cost of integrating new members, it is important to get the best person you can for the job.  Make sure that you do the job right the first time so that you don’t have to go through the process all over again.

  2. Be prepared. Make the new person know that you were expecting them and prepared for them to arrive.  Get all the necessary paperwork completed in advance.  This includes system sign-ons, teleconference numbers, network access codes, building key cards, laptop or desktop, parking pass, project charge codes, shared file locations, bathroom keys, desk, cubicle, shared printer ID’s, and anything else that everyone else has and that they will need.   This is the kind of thing that can be turned into a checklist and turned over to a project administrator.   

  3. Meaningful Work. Have meaningful work ready for new members on the day they arrive.  This is the single most important thing that you can do to help team members have a positive emotional association.  People like to be useful and make a contribution.  When they go home feeling they contributed something they will good about themselves and the project.  People who feel underutilized or are idle, will feel sad or angry and get into all kinds of mischief.

  4. First day lunch. On the first day, make time to take people to lunch.  Don’t make the new members awkwardly ask about lunch options – treat them as a special guest.  It will help to ease the transition and provide an opportunity to get to know people.  If this is impossible for you to do, make sure a senior member of the team does it.  Pick someone who is quite positive about the project.

  5. Big Brother / Big Sister.  On a recent project, I had a “big brother/big sister” program.  I would ask a senior person to look out for new resources and take them under their wing.  This provided a lifeline for the person into the organization.  If the new person had questions, they didn’t have to always come to me to get them answered.  I was busy anyway and new people were reluctant because they didn’t want to appear incompetent and they did not want to bug me.  Having another person on the team as their go to person also provided me another communication channel or someone I could go to see how the new person was doing.

  6. Check in on them.  Whether or not you have a big brother or big sister, make it a point to check on your new team members during the first part of their assignment.  Set up checkpoints at the end of day 1, end of week 1, and at the end of 30 days.  This needn’t be a formal meeting; it could be part of the normal rounds that you are making as a project manager.  Ask how things are going.  Ask if there are any issues or if they are having any trouble completing their tasks on time. Find out how well they have integrated and if they are productive.   

Bottom Line

The bottom line is to integrate people well by associating warm feelings about the project right from the start.  Help them get over their fear (and even anger) by making them feel welcome and needed.  Channel their excitement into the work you need to get done.  Do this by preparing in advance for their arrival so that they are productive from the start, give them meaningful work, lay out expectations, and then check in with them often.

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