Congratulations, you’ve hired a fantastic new employee! They’re talented and experienced and you have every confidence that they’ll be really successful in their new role.
They’ve been through the induction process, met the CEO and know where the canteen is.
But then you introduce them to the team they’ll be working in.
And all hell breaks loose!
I’ve worked with a client who was experiencing exactly this issue.
One of their previously high-performing teams had fallen apart. Many team members had left and the rest were disgruntled and disengaged.
And the problems all started when a (well-qualified and professional) new employee was brought onboard.
Sounds extreme, right? But when you think about it, it makes sense.
The team in question was well-established and one of the best performing teams in the business. It had developed extremely effective ways of working, was very slick and well-gelled.
But it wasn’t terribly creative. Team members had become somewhat stuck in their ways. Not surprising perhaps when those ways were so successful but a lack of innovation was likely to be detrimental in the long-term.
So the manager recruited a new team member – Amanda.
Amanda was well-qualified for the role and set about her tasks with efficiency and integrity. But in a very short time she had managed to upset most of the team.
Why? Simply because she went about things in a very different way to the rest of them. While they were hugely collaborative, she was independent. While they followed procedure, she challenged conventions and came up with new approaches. While they were very supportive of each other, she didn’t really see the need to care about anybody else.
The status quo was severely disrupted. The team resented Amanda for not conforming to behaviours that had become the norm but that were largely unspoken. Her manager was confused about why Amanda was being rejected by the team. Performance levels plunged and people started talking about leaving.
What was going on here?
Bruce Tuckman identified that teams go through four keys stages of development.
- Forming – the team starts working together – tentatively but politely.
- Storming – people push against boundaries, there is friction, possibly conflict between personalities and working styles. There is the risk that the team will break apart.
- Norming – things calm down, people start to trust each other, appreciate each others’ strengths and work out how to work together.
- Performing – the team’s working to a high standard, achieving their goals.
The team in question had been through all these stages already and was happily settled in the ‘performing’ stage.
The team manager felt that, given this, it would be easy to integrate a new member into this high-functioning set-up.
But what he didn’t anticipate – as many managers don’t – is that the introduction of this new member actually set the team right back to the ‘storming’ stage.
It doesn’t always happen, it’s true. It is possible to integrate new team members without this level of disruption. But this tends to be only if they’re quite similar personality-wise to the rest of the team.
If the plan is to bring someone onboard who’s quite different from other members – like Amanda – to inject some new energy or creativity or innovation into a team – then you need to expect and prepare for conflict.
There are a number of steps the manager could have taken before or as soon as Amanda joined to alleviate the problems and help the team get back up to speed:
- give the new team member a clear and thorough understanding of the team they’re about to join – the expectations, the established ways of working, the unwritten rules
- give the team a clear and thorough understanding of this new person – their strengths, why they’ve been recruited, how to help them integrate
- prepare the team for a potential dip in performance as everyone adjusts to the new make-up of the team
- undertake some team-building activities to help bring people together.
To read more about Tuckman’s team formation model and how to apply it to your team, click here.
What happened to the team in question? Despite the team manager’s best efforts to rescue the situation, it was too late. The team didn’t survive. The business lost a number of talented and experienced individuals as well as the healthy revenue they generated.
But by anticipating and preparing for disruption to a team’s status quo when a new member comes along, you can do much to smooth the process and return things to normal, maybe even better than normal, as quickly as possible.
For more on tackling team conflict, click here.