When I first joined Unbabel in 2018, there were only about 75 of us. We are now 268. Over the course of the last two years, a lot has happened, and a lot has changed.
We outgrew our first office and had to get a second one, then a third, and then all of a sudden there were five. We opened up locations in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, New York and Singapore. The Unbabel Annual Event evolved into the first Customer Centric Conference, which this year will include four smaller conferences leading up to the big one. We raised our Series C funding. Business is booming, and the pace doesn’t seem like it will slow down any time soon.
But as the business grows, several teams need to grow as well to be able to keep up. The Customer Happiness team, my team, is no exception. We recently hired a new member in order to expand our support capabilities, and as I was thinking through how to structure the onboarding plan, I noticed this might not be just another ordinary onboarding.
Let me explain: when we first started growing the team last year, we hired two or three new people each time and in a very short timeframe. We focused on building a world-class support team that is not only aligned with the company values and objectives, but also has its own goals and strives to be the best it can be. We quickly established strong bonds and became a very close-knit team. We’re like a family, and every time someone new joins, it’s like welcoming someone into our home. My job is to make sure that each new person feels like they’re part of this work family, and not only a visitor at our house.
By the time this new hire was to join us, we had all been working together for at least 8 months. It might not sound like a lot, but time moves differently in the fast-paced startup world. In it, 8 months are equivalent to a lifetime.
So how do you welcome someone new into a group that’s been working together for seemingly all their lives?
It’s a small world
Being part of a small team is different than belonging to a bigger team. There is no room for smaller groups to form, and everyone usually gets along with everyone. Bringing in a new member is always risky, as they can disrupt an already existing dynamic. Ideally, this should be taken into consideration during the hiring process, since if that person doesn’t fit in, they could risk becoming isolated in their own team.
And of course, no one wants that. While you can’t always assess if a new hire will fit into your team’s dynamic, there are certain things you can do to ease up the onboarding process and make it easier for them to settle into the team.
Here are my tips on how to onboard a new team member in a small support team.
It’s important that your new hires know what the team’s objectives are and what is expected of them. The two main questions that need to be answered here are: What are the company’s and the team’s dynamic and culture, and how can new members fit in? What new skills are they supposed to acquire and at what pace?
Create a training plan
All new hires need to have an overview of all technical and practical content that is necessary to fulfil their positions. At the top of the list of a well-structured training plan, you should have products, tools, processes, and sessions about anything and everything that they might come across while supporting your customers. Remember that good training is the base of any successful support professional.
Make sure everyone in the team is involved
Take this opportunity to improve your team member’s training skills by giving them ownership over parts of the onboarding process.
In our case, I empowered the team to suggest the sessions they would like to prepare and deliver. This was a great opportunity for them to help train a new team member, as well as to learn through the process of preparing the sessions. It also helped them create a bond and get to know the new team member, which is very important for such a tight-knit team.
Include other teams if necessary
Customer support is a job that has many dependencies and often requires cross-functional work. Therefore, it is very important to include other teams in the onboarding process of a new member. Make sure they have the opportunity to meet every team (or at least their managers) that may have touchpoints with them.
In our “meet the team” sessions, the managers of all relevant teams presented their team and their daily work, as well as how they interact with us, leaving room for a small Q&A for the new hire to clear any questions from the beginning.
Build a good onboarding schedule
Take the “meet the team” sessions and the ones prepared by your team members and make sure you create a reasonable schedule that can be executed without being too overwhelming. Too much information in a short amount of time can be very scary and difficult to remember, especially if you are starting a new job at a new company.
I found that alternating between the technical training sessions and the “meet the team” sessions was a good balance. Always be prepared to adapt and rearrange this schedule, because everyone learns at a different pace, and it definitely takes a village to pull this off.
Have a Knowledge Base to back it up
Even if you build a great training plan with the best onboarding schedule, if you don’t have the proper documentation to support it, this job will be a thousand times more difficult and less efficient for both you and your new hire.
As mentioned by our Knowledge Manager Paulo Talhadas, a lot of information can easily slip through the cracks, and be forgotten during this process. That can be avoided by having an up to date knowledge base ready to serve as a guiding tool throughout this journey.
Promote inclusion and integration
Your team probably already has a particular dynamic and some specific routines, so it’s paramount that the person in charge of the onboarding includes the new team member in all team activities, even if they take place outside of the office.
In our team, there is a lot of bonding that happens at team lunches, afternoon breaks and even after-work drinks, so besides including your new team members in all work-related activities, make sure they are welcome to join in on “extra-curricular” activities as well.
Don’t forget that your team needs to be ready to accept that this new person has a personality of their own and might have different perspectives on several topics. But embracing change is part of any growing process, and changing up the team’s dynamic isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but rather can create a new, improved dynamic.
These seven steps made for very successful onboarding of new members on our small support team, and they will be used in further onboardings to come.
The team fully embraced all challenges that came up during this journey, growing as professionals, while at the same time helping a new team member get settled into the groove of a fast-paced team, always striving to achieve greatness.
On the other hand, our new member — hi, Mafalda! — has been submitting great feedback about the onboarding process and the team, who on their end welcomed her to our work family, making this a smooth transition for everyone.