This is the second article in 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. Read about the origins of our team onboarding here.
Our team unanimously agreed that telling our identity stories was the most challenging and uncomfortable part of team onboarding. “It’s not something I looked forward to,” says Dione. “I love listening to people’s stories,” adds Kim. “But not so much sharing my own.” Everyone echoed similar feelings.
We were sharing our identity stories as part of experiencing one of our own learning blocks: Identity & Deep Listening, which is part of our Building and Expanding Cultural Competency Program. It’s one of the first relationship-building experiences we designed to help colleagues get to know each other, share their full selves without filtering for what’s “acceptable,” and just be whole humans together.
The exercise begins with selecting a set of important identity markers. Then, we tell another person our identity story, talking for ten minutes about how race, gender, body size, religion, parental status, country of origin, etc., impact how we show up every day. All while our colleague listens deeply.
Why We Tell Our Stories (Again and Again)
Our discomfort sometimes lies in feeling like ten minutes is an absolute eternity to be talking about ourselves. And it’s about how vulnerable it is to share these parts of ourselves, especially if we’ve been socialized to check many important parts of ourselves at the door in order to belong at work.
Our difficulty was also a matter of quantity. The experience requires us to share our story, one-on-one, with every other member of the team. The next time we practice this, it will mean telling our story six times.
It’s a huge commitment of emotions and time. But here’s why it works and why we’ve come to deeply appreciate the practice:
We’ve all changed over the last year, even the last few months. The opportunity to update our story to match our various life changes–buying a home, moving, divorce, elder care, losing loved ones, kids changing schools–helps us appreciate our own growth and know ourselves differently. We also find ourselves sharing differently and sharing more as we get more comfortable, saying things that we couldn’t have imagined before.
Nick noticed a shift between his first and second team onboarding. The first time, “I was still trying to learn the cultural competency. It was a good experience, but I did have a sense of urgency and a need to prove myself and my work. I have more awareness now about what it means to work here and what I’m carrying over from my career in education.”
As a team member who is also facilitating our onboarding, MJ noticed, “When I’m facilitating for the team, it can sometimes feel like I’m taking up more space and putting myself in a place with power that I’m less than comfortable with. But since we did our values evolution, I can feel everyone opting in and I can be free to be myself, supporting our team without trying to prove myself or know all the answers. This time around, I felt much more comfortable in that leadership role.”
The Reluctant CEO column of our newsletter was born when Jennifer confronted the changes in her identity story. “I had an identity crisis,” she recalls. Talking about my professional identity, I had to name some things that were uncomfortable, like the role of CEO or the turnover on our team in the last two years. I really didn’t want to have those conversations–they were so uncomfortable–but in the end, they were clarifying for me.”
Telling her identity story got easier for Kim. “I’m socialized to believe that harder is better–if something’s hard then you know it has value. But we’ve worked really hard to build our relationships and deepen our trust. So it was easier this time around, but no less valuable.”
The main reason, however, that we tell our stories and listen to each other is to deepen our relationships. We get to know each other, experience vulnerability together, hold space for each other, demonstrate deep regard, feel valued, and welcome our full selves to work.
Doing the cultural competency work with our team is how we can tell clients, with full integrity and empathy, that we know the work is hard. We’re in it with you. We get the time and vulnerability it takes. And we celebrate you staying it in with us.