Simple techniques for breaking the ice with new staff

April 3, 2015 Uli Aschenbrenner No Comments

You’ve probably been on both sides of the new job situation: coming in to the office for the first day, not knowing anyone or anything about the job yet it’s frightening. And if you’re on the other side, you know what it’s like to have a new staff who’s probably timid as a mouse, taking their time to learn their way around, get themselves set up, and slowly meet the team.

Wouldn’t it be nice to short-circuit that process so our new staff fit in a little easier, and a little faster? Here’s what research suggests can help us bring new staff into the fold with less friction.

Find a common interest

We like people who are like us. We’re drawn to others with similar beliefs, appearance, and interests. Studies show that when given the option, we’ll choose friends who think like us.

This doesn’t mean we can’t get along with people who have different opinions or interests, but we’re naturally more attracted to commonalities.

Put it to work

How can you find those commonalities that will help your new staff bond with the team?

Include interests in your hiring process

Include mentions of interests your team has in common in your job ads and interviews. An extra benefit of this is that it will make your ads and interview process stand out from the crowd. Wouldn’t you be more drawn to an ad that mentions something you’re really interested in as well as what the job entails? Plus, this gives your new recruits something to bring up during the interview or in their first days on the job, without scrabbling to find an interest they have in common with everyone else.

Here’s an example from a Creative Mornings job ad:

You know these references

Ideally, you consider yourself a mini-Maria Popova, consuming and digesting content faster than a human body can process a Hi-Chew. You listen to Design Matters with Debbie Millman, admire the lush lettering of Jessica Hische and when we say “f*ck you, pay me”, ”you think Mike Monteiro. If you know any of these people (or what a Hi-Chew is), you’™ll fit right in.

Make it easy to share interests at work

For any new team member it can be daunting to jump into an existing team dynamic and find your own place. Making it easy to share hobbies, interests, and information about themselves can help your new staff fit in faster. For instance, you might let all staff take turns to control the music system and share their taste in music. If you use Spotify in the office, their new collaborative playlists feature makes it easy to let everyone contribute.

Or maybe you have a Friday night get-together with your team after work ”don’t be boring and have drinks at the same place every week. Let your staff take turns in suggesting an activity or a place to meet up.

Ask about them

We love to talk about ourselves. Talking about ourselves registers in the reward centers of our brains, similar to how our brains react to food and sex. And we like it even more when we can talk about ourselves to someone who will listen. In a study that offered participants small amounts of money for answering questions about themselves, people were willing to give up 25% of their potential earnings in order to choose to share their answers publicly, instead of privately.

Put it to work

Let your team talk about themselves and what they’re interested in. And really listen.

Ask about their home lives

We all know staff have lives outside of work but it’s easy to overlook that when we think of them in the context of work. Try asking your team periodically about their hobbies, what they do on their days off, their family or pets, previous jobs, or even favorite foods. Try to bring new staff into the discussion by asking them personal questions, and pay attention so they feel heard.

Ask for suggestions

As a new staff, you pretty much expect that nobody will respect your opinion at first. But that doesn’t have to be the case. New recruits bring experience and knowledge from previous work, life experience, and even studying. Make them feel part of the team by asking for their advice on problems you’re solving, or just asking them to relate stories of similar situations they’ve been in before.

Provide bonding opportunities in the office

Ask anyone what they like most about their job and you’re likely to hear “the people” in their answer. We all love working with people we respect and get along with, but it can be hard to find your place when you’re new.

Put it to work

Try including bonding opportunities at work so your new staff can get to know existing team members.

Ping pong

Ping pong is a great casual game to have in the office or break room. If you don’t have room for a full table, you could set up some fun board games or puzzles. Having a game to play can make the bonding process more natural and encourage healthy competition.

You can use Challonge to manage ongoing team competitions or regular tournaments.

Shared breaks

Try rostering for multiple staff to take breaks at the same time. If you can afford to have more than one staff on break at once, you might find they come back to work more refreshed thanks to the opportunity for socializing.

If you’re already using a buddy system where new staff get paired up with someone more experienced to help them learn the ropes, this is the perfect setup for shared breaks. Try a buddy system for lunch breaks so new recruits can get to know the same person over a week or two before switching to a new buddy.

Offer talking points

Just like a game can help to break the ice, having a talking point to start with can be helpful. An easy way to do this is to rotate posters on the wall of your office or break room. For instance, post a new Magic Eye puzzle or a set of trivia questions every week.

You could also use a whiteboard or cork board to let staff share movie reviews. Just write or type up a grid with columns for your name, the movie name, and your rating, and let the debates begin!

Every new staff will need some time to settle in, but with a few tricks up our sleeves like these, we can make the transition smoother for everyone involved.


This post was written by Belle Beth Cooper

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