The intersection of technology and leadership

Onboarding Strategy: Explain Your Rituals

Its Purpose?
Every project has meetings or events that repeat. Sometimes they occur daily, others weekly and others less regularly. Sometimes they are informal and ad hoc, other times formal and repeated. It’s important for new people to understand what you call each of these rituals, how they work and why these rituals exist. Understanding what you call them, how they run and why helps them become a fully participating team member faster.

How Did We Execute It?
Before any repeating meeting we would have, if we had a new team member, I would explain what we were about to do, and explain the reason we met. Some rituals I didn’t explain in great detail how we would conduct the meeting since it would be faster to let them experience one. I intentionally explained it in front of the group to ensure we all had agreement about what we were all about to do, and to help remind newer participants why we have them again.

Here’s what it may sound like (you may of course, have different resons for running stand ups in the example below that are just as perfectly valid):

Explaning what: We’re about to start our “Daily Stand Up Meeting”.
Explaning how: In this brief meeting, we stand in a circle facing each other and share information that we think others will be interested in such as what we did yesterday, what we’re planning to do today, and most importantly any blockers we currently have.
Explaining why: We do this in the morning to help start our day and talk about what we did yesterday to helps others understand what progress we’re making. We talk about what we’re planning to do today to double check our priorities are correct for the day, and we want everyone to talk openly about our blockers because we want individuals to feel supported by the team in overcoming any blockers.

Here’s another example:

Explaining what: We’re about to meet for our “Tech Huddle”.
Explaining how: In this session, we want everyone to share an important lesson they learned today, or a gotcha others should know about
Explaining why: The system is becoming complex, and everyone may discover new things (or even old things over again). By sharing some important lesson or a gotcha, we accelerate the learning process and avoid costly mistakes caused by relearning the same thing over and over again.

Prayer Wheel Rituals

Image taken from Ron Layters’s photostream flickr stream under the Creative Commons Licence.

Why Is It Important?

It’s difficult for team members to fully participate in rituals unless they understand what expectations you have for them and understand why it’s important to participate. Explaining what you call the ritual, and how you conduct each ritual and the roles team members play is a first step in the right direction. Once they understand the what and the how, the new people understand what the name of your ritual means to them and are now enabled with the ability to participate. Explaining to them the purpose of the ritual and the drivers behind it them helps build a reason for them participate.

Giving them both the ability (what the ritual is called, how it is run and how to participate) and the motivation (the signficance and value of the ritual) helps new team members stand out less by helping them avoid coping strategies of silence (“I don’t know what to do, so I’ll just sit and watch what others do)” or resentment (“What a crock! Why are they wasting my time?”)

You gain a secondary benefit from explaining the ritual following the what-how-why strategy. Explaining the what and the how helps you understand how consistently you repeat your rituals, leading to standardised work. Explaining the why helps you focus on the value of your ritual. Often many rituals lack value and, as a result, you should drop them.

What I Might Try Next Time
The next time I explain my rituals, I think I’m going to try to write what I say down to see if I’m being consistent. This might also work well as project documentation useful in handover to support or to observers who sit outside of the project.

3 Comments

  1. Jason Yip

    Have you looked into the Lean concept of Standard Work?

  2. Matt

    Patrick.

    Great explanation. I’ve added your entry as a reference on my Development philosophy wiki page (http://netsmith.wikispaces.com/Development). I think that over time (with or without a newcomer), it is easy for a group to gradually slide away from the original intent/purpose of a ritual/meeting. I think there is value in verbalizing or writing down that agreed upon intent at any point that someone new is introduced or whenever a team member recognizes a ritual as slipping away from the original intent/value.

  3. Patrick

    Jason – I’ve read about it only recently in the book Toyota Talent. From my understanding, it’s about standardising work and breaking it down into (teachable) skills/tasks so it becomes repeatable. Is this right?

    Matt – Thanks! Good luck and tell me if you make any changes to it or how it works out.

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