Thoughts On Onboarding

When new members are introduced to an organization aimed towards a common goal, the early period is critical; it sets the stage for the rest of the members’ relationship with the organization.

It is critical to have the new members engaged in back-and-forth communication, and that absolutely cannot happen without a sense of belonging. This also takes some effort on the part of incumbent members and the leaders of the organization. This is because there tends to be some psychological barriers to treating a newcomer exactly the same as one would treat a long-time comrade. The incumbents must realize that all of this is purely mental, and it may even be useful for the leaders to remind the incumbents of the importance of inclusion.

How can “setting the stage” be formally defined? The latest in psychological literature asserts that when an individual encounters a new situation, new neural patterns are created. These new patterns start off weak and diffuse, with great potential for change, since the patterns have not yet been entrenched in the individual’s brain. Over time, however, as the situation is encountered more often, these neural patterns are traversed again and again, and these previously diffuse patterns grow stronger. The neural connections peripheral to these patterns receive less stimulation; this makes the neural pattern more efficient, but less susceptible to change.

One can make the following analogy of rain shaping and transforming its incident landscape. Rain landing on a flat sloping hill will travel down the hill in numerous small streams that readily shift and change, and initially each individual stream will not obviously be any larger than any other stream. However, as the hill repeatedly experiences rain, some small amount of dirt and silt will be carried away via these streams, deepening channels under these waterways. The amount of earth carried away varies from stream to stream, such that certain channels will become deeper — furthermore, the deeper the channel, the larger the stream during the next rain. Eventually, a much smaller number of significantly larger streams — ones so entrenched in the that they are likely to never change direction — will be carrying the bulk of the rainwater. A very similar process occurs during the formation of new neural patterns.

The importance of setting the stage early for new members of an organization is now clear. The new members must realize the neural patterns of inclusion, communication, and confidence in a group setting, and the neural patterns must be reinforced often to make sure that it is set for all future cooperative efforts in the organization. This positive habit has tremendous value — cooperation now is not only natural, but it also comes at absolutely no extra mental expense to the new individual. The individual’s mental resources are therefore completely free for applying to the important tasks at hand, all while painlessly reaping the fruits of collaborative resources. Without active and focused efforts by the organization’s leadership, there is far too much risk of alternate detrimental mental patterns forming (such as isolation, low esteem, etc.). The leaders must therefore be diligent and not relax standards for communication and inclusion as the organization grows.

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