Welcome to our series on team onboarding, a practice at Leverage to Lead where we go beyond traditional onboarding and decide to evolve as a team, together, when a new colleague joins us. 

A common challenge we see when helping organizations operationalize their values is hiring for representation but onboarding for sameness. Organizations bring on people for their differences, but how can new hires thrive and contribute their full value when onboarding only involves teaching them how to get along and fit in? 

Traditional onboarding is so often about erasing differences to avoid the discomfort of change. But in reality, every new employee inevitably shifts the company’s ecosystem. By their first day, the change has already happened, and we can choose whether to embrace or resist it. 

We think about all this as Leverage to Lead is experiencing change and growth this year. In May, Melody went from freelance consultant to Director of Communications and Marketing. In a few months, we hope to bring on a new Program Manager as well. Ours is a team onboarding process, and we’ve been deep in it since May.

As we reflect on why onboarding at Leverage to Lead is a team process instead of an individual orientation, we wanted to share how it all started, what it looks like, and what have been our challenges and growth areas.

We’ll never really be done because no one can know, once and for all, how to do their work and how to do it well. With team onboarding, we’re making room to grow together and making it part of our values and commitments.

How It Started

In 2021, traditional employee onboarding wasn’t working for our team. We knew the basics were necessary: setting up all their account access, getting an overview of HR, and understanding their role. But when onboarding serves only to teach new employees how we expect them to work with us, it fails to embrace the whole person or serve the rest of the team. 

So, we returned to a core belief about every workplace: culture is not static. Joining a team means new relationships are created, established ones change, and we become a new team together. When a new employee brings a new perspective, expertise, and set of experiences, we all hold the responsibility to let them inform and change the way we do things, the way we see things, our goals, processes, approaches, relationships, and even our very selves. 

Onboarding should be designed to help all of us contribute our diversity freely.

Truthfully, it’s vulnerable to let someone’s experiences and beliefs impact yours. It’s hard to shift our mindset away from fear that a piece of ourselves is being erased to the thrill that our whole selves are being enhanced by change. “This,” Jennifer reflects, “is what really makes the work interesting to me. This is what makes it enjoyable.”

How It’s Going

Our current team onboarding involves going through the values work and Cultural Competency learning blocks we bring to clients. These include Identity & Deep Listening, Power Dynamics & Co-Creating Equity in Relationships, and Exploring Emotions & Inner Agility. We reserve time during our regular team meetings for this, and consider it as vital as our client work, because the quality of our work depends on the quality of our relationships. We are committed to creating belonging on our team. Yes, it takes time, and we adjust the pace of our work, which usually means slowing down. 

Let’s be clear: team onboarding doesn’t prevent or eliminate disagreement, conflict, misunderstandings, or hurt feelings. We’re still human. But with increased trust, deep regard for each other, and working agreements that hold us accountable for asking for what we need, we can better handle mistakes and interpersonal challenges. Sometimes that looks like sharing a discomfort or confusion. Sometimes it’s simply saying, “I disagree.” Or, “I have a completely different vision from you.” And getting curious about the disagreement and the difference.

Clearly, we’ll never be done with team onboarding because we are always creating this team anew. We are becoming a team over and over again, conversation by conversation. Deepening our relationships and expanding our own cultural competency is not a prerequisite to the work. It is the work. 

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