The intersection of technology and leadership

Onboarding Strategy: Letting Go

Its Purpose?
Individuals progress through different stages of learning. Not everyone will progress at the same pace, and at some point, people will move beyond the initial learning stage and will start to learn more if they are doing it by themselves with less explicit direction.

Letting Go

Image taken from Ruojo’s flickr stream under the Creative Commons Licence.

How Did We Execute It?
As individuals new to the team demonstrated more knowledge and understanding about the system, we started giving them more ownership of a particular story card. They would create the Tiny Tasks for a story, and own the design for it. As the technical lead, I would only intercede if they wanted an opinion about a particular design, other than that they would be given space they needed to finish a story card without any explicit instructions.

Why Is It Important?
There are many different ways that people learn and many different models describing each way. In Aikido, they describing learning using Shu-Ha-Ri and is one often used as an analogy of learning software concepts and patterns. Another model talks about the 4 Stages of Learning where an individual progresses from Unconscious incompetence towards the ultimate stage of Unconscious Competence though may progress via two others stages of Conscious incompetence and Conscious Competence. The common theme between most learning models is recognising an initial stage for a person who needs explicit direction and further stages where explicit direction is no longer required.

Many of the onboarding (and really just learning) techniques help address most of the initial stages (Shu or Unconscious Incompetence) of learning and it’s important to keep in mind that individuals will reach the second stage at different rates. If you continue to apply the same approach to teaching students who have transcended to the next level, you will find they become more resistant, and less appreciative and more than likely much more argumentative and resentful.

The key to Letting Go is recognising when individuals progress to that next level and give them the appropriate freedom to accomplish specific goals with little to no guidance. It’s important to still create a safe environment for them to make mistakes but they will learn much more by doing it themselves.


  1. Alex

    Hi … I’m the photographer of the above image used in your article. Thank you for giving me credit 🙂 … but, my username is actually roujo (not Ruogo, as you have it spelled above).

    Just wanted to let you know. Again – thanks for the credit.

    – alex

  2. Patrick

    Thanks Alex. I’ve updated it. Sorry about the typo.

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