Onboarding new team members


Day 1 at a new job is scary for anyone so when a new person is joining your team, it is oh so important for the existing team band together to 1- make sure she feels welcome and 2- provide a clear path to productivity.

Even if a company-wide onboarding program is in place, team-specific onboarding programs can be even more impactful in helping new hires get their footing. Here are some ideas on how to make that happen.

Before your new team member arrives:

1. Develop a onboarding curriculum

An onboarding program should give new team members the context and tools required to do the work they came to do. It should also complement any company onboarding processes such that key themes or messages are reinforced.

Ideal components of a team onboarding program will generally fall into two buckets– soft competencies (familiarization with company and team) and hard competencies (skills required to do the job). Soft competencies are often overlooked, but I would argue that these are more important to reinforce in the early days than hard competencies. To the extent possible, success criteria for onboarding should at least roughly map to existing any performance evaluation criteria.

  • Soft competencies are best delivered through informal advice sessions. Even though these sessions are ‘informal’ in nature, it is still critical that time is explicitly carved out to cover them.
  • Hard competencies are best delivered in trainings from subject matter experts- these should get your new team member up-to-speed using any tools required to do her job well and provide guidance on how to plug into any role-critical processes
    • If there is a meaningful skill gap you are aware of (for example, using Redshift or emailing software), introduce trainings that addresses these soon as possible.
    • Once there your provide some context on hard competencies, shadow sessions in which new team members sit with existing team members while they do the work they normally can be very impactful!

Note: if you are starting to build a program from scratch, make sure you are getting input from the entire team about what should be represented in the curriculum. This has an added benefit of making everyone a stakeholder from the outset and will likely increase their engagement with the program once you roll it out.

How to execute on your curriculum:

  • Document the superset of all knowledge a new person on your team might need- this should generally fall into two buckets- soft competencies (familiarization with company and team) and hard competencies (skills required to do the job).
  • Rank them by priority and time sensitivity- for example- team norms (like expected hours and communication channels) and ramping up on job-critical tools (like frequently used software) should be front-loaded
  • Assign ‘trainers’ for each session- a diversity of people, roles, levels, tenure and working styles on the team should be represented. All advice, context-setting, trainings, and shadow sessions should not be carried out by a single person. This would be unnecessarily burdensome for that existing team member and will help your new team member build relationships across the team right away.
  • Put forth a schedule for sessions- front-load the most critical and time sensitive while also ensuring a diversity of trainers are represented.
  • Create a place to track progress that you and your new team member will share.

2. Assign a ‘spin-up buddy’ 

It is this person’s responsibility to not only work with new a team member directly but also ensure that the rest of the team is doing their part to integrate her to the team and the work.

In selecting a spin-up buddy:

  • Seniority doesn’t matter and it doesn’t have to be the person’s manager. The spin-up buddy should be someone that can spend a lot of time upfront and pull in others as necessary
  • This person should be a cultural lynchpin of the team and ideally the company

3. Have a spin-up project waiting

This is a project that should give your new team member a quick boost while familiarizing her with the tools and skills required to do her job. The spin-up buddy and manager should work closely to determine what the project will be.

Ensure this is a project that will almost certainly be successful. As such, the skills required to get the project done should map to what you know about your new team member’s existing competencies.


Once your new team member arrives:

1. Have the team meet your new team member at her desk on her first day

Ideally, there is a some welcome ‘stuff’ waiting for or sent to them. This could be company swag, a card from existing team members about their excitement, or delicious treats.

2. Set high-level expectations directly about what new team members should expect to feel increasingly good about by the end of team onboarding

Frame these expectations to your new team member from her perspective and don’t forget to remind her that there is no expectation of mastery in the first few weeks. It may be helpful to use the framing of soft competencies and hard competencies.

For example:

  • Soft competencies (relatively consistent from function-to-function):
    • I understand team goals and operating principles (and how those fit within the company goals and operating principles)
    • I am familiar with team norms
    • I’ve been spending time with my teammates, know what they generally work on and have met other with whom I’ll work most closely
  • Hard competencies: (will vary more from function-to-function)
    • ex (for operational role)- I am familiar with the tools required to execute on my work
    • ex (for marketing role)- I have developed baseline knowledge of our products and audience

3. Describe, in detail, the onboarding curriculum

Show your new team member her curriculum and let them know how to update progress. Make sure she knows feedback throughout is welcome!

4. Spend regular in-person time with a new team member throughout the first couple of weeks

  • Schedule a day 1 welcome at the desks
  • Schedule some kind of team activity soon after starting, ideally outside the office and within the first month- dinner
  • Meet at the end of each day, everyday for 1-2 weeks to check in
  • Ensure that the team’s leader spends some time with them in their first week


5. Ask for feedback on the onboarding experience directly and explicitly

This will not only help you improve processes going forward for additional new hires, but it will also make your new team member feel like she contributing to the success and culture of the team!


Overall, first impressions are critical ones. Happy onboarding is beneficial to your new team members and the company.