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When somebody first joins a team, they're in an incredibly valuable position to provide "outside" feedback. Existing team members' thought processes are often corrupted by habit and repetition, and thus its extremely important to gather this uncorrupted perspective before the new member gets accustomed to the new environment.

However, many people are hesitant to speak up and offer suggestions when they first join a team -- they're more focused on not sounding stupid or getting caught up or pleasing the boss. It would be ideal if we could make him/her as comfortable as possible so that he/she isn't shy about providing insight and opinions right away.

How can I get honest feedback from a new team member who may be too cautious to be completely honest and risk jeopardizing their job?

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take him/her to lunch and listen –  DA. Feb 26 '13 at 22:06
    
Fair enough. I understand good listening practices are important to keep the conversation going, but the question remains how to get it going in the first place. A straightforward "What are your initial thoughts of what could be done differently?" makes sense, but I was wondering if there's more to this process than meets the eye... –  Kyle Wurtz Feb 26 '13 at 22:39
    
It's a good question. Typically, when I do see it happen, it's great, but things often fall back towards the old ways of working sooner than later. I think soliciting feedback is the easier part (after the first week, pay for happy hour and talk). The harder part is trying to keep that conversation going over time and actually trying to enact some changes. –  DA. Feb 26 '13 at 22:46
    
Bureaucratic inertia aside, I like your suggestion to get out of the work environment when seeking the feedback. A change of venue could help relax the barriers and get conversation started. –  Kyle Wurtz Feb 26 '13 at 22:55
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Hi Kyle, I've made an edit to your question that I think addresses the reason it got closed while still getting you the information you appear to be seeking. I've voted to reopen it, but it still needs 4 more votes from other community members to get reopened. If I've made a mistake in my edit, feel free to roll back the change, or edit it further. :) –  Rachel Feb 27 '13 at 16:21
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3 Answers 3

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Let me offer a few ideas, take all with a grain (or more) of salt depending on your industry/country/culture/team makeup/ages, etc.

Study Sessions

One of the best ways I've seen to get a new team member to have their voice heard and to be able to provide feedback from a different perspective without implying any criticism is to set up study sessions (be it presentations, small seminars, workshops, etc.). Every new member to a team coming from a different background has some cool things that they've learned that everyone in the team could learn about. If you explain to your team (and to the new member) that you want to set aside an hour a week for one team member to lead such a seminar/presentation/study session, you can use that as an opportunity for your team member to speak freely.

This will require three things from you (assuming you are the boss):

  1. Setting aside time to do this for you and your employees
  2. Encouraging members to share more than 'this is what I'm working on' (to the point of suggesting themes if necessary/appropriate)
  3. Making this feel 'valuable' for the people attending

Pros:

  • New team member's knowledge is acknowledged and respected
  • 'Education' is much less threatening than 'Suggestions for Improvement'
  • People actually learn cool stuff and get to share cool stuff (e.g. a member of my team recently shared information on how to read through corporate reports, and then showed various competitors in our industry and where they stood on each metric -- it was totally outside the scope of our usual work, but totally awesome to learn about!)

Cons:

  • Takes time
  • If employees aren't motivated to learn/teach, it will fall flat
  • New member (depending on personality) may feel 'put on the spot'
  • Requires a lot of really good coordination from the manager (or key team members) to be successful

Encourage 'Why?' Questions

Again assuming your are the manager, you can ask your new team member to provide you with a single 'Why?' question about the work process every week. You can explain this with fancy manager-speak making this sound like a noble quest, or you can be honest with them. At any rate your goal is just to get them to ask a good 'Why?' question, without showing any judgment or criticism.

If the question has an answer ('We need to send out those company-wide e-mails on properly disposing waste because it is required in ISO-14001 for our certification') you can give it, and if it doesn't have an answer, you can use that opportunity to brainstorm with them about where the gap is. So long as you aren't critical of them when you have the conversations, they should be more than happy to share.

Pros:

  • Quick and easy to implement
  • Requires little time
  • Aids in employee education

Cons:

  • The employee may be really bad at coming up with good 'why?' questions
  • Depending on their attitude/your attitude, it could become a bit controversial (they ask critical questions, you provide critical responses)

Alcohol

This is my personal favorite. In Japan they hold a welcome party called a 歓迎会 (kangeikai) where you get the new employee and the team drunk and ask them questions about their last job, their family, etc. This is probably not legal in most of the world (and probably wouldn't go over so well in the US at least). In the UK your non-manager employees will take you out to a pub for a pint or three and get to know you as a person.

In both occasions, the benefits of alcohol aiding otherwise awkward social interaction is that the new employee becomes less threatening to the group because, well, who looks so threatening when they're teetering at the bar?

(this is also a tactic used in Korea/China to get you absolutely plastered the night before a negotiation, and make you utterly useless in the morning. Alcohol is truly a multi-purpose tool for use in business.)

Of course this doesn't work for every country, situation, etc. And it likely won't solve everything. But it's a good start.

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I severely doubt the efficacy of getting the team drunk. Far to often people who are just fine sober have behavior problems when drunk. Not to mention a considerable number of people battle with alcoholism. Putting a new person into a position where they are forced to either partake or reveal their personal failings is not a good way to initiate a new team member in a professional environment. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Feb 27 '13 at 4:46
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It's a cultural thing and, as the big disclaimer at the start says, "take all with a grain (or more) of salt depending on your industry/country/culture/team makeup/ages, etc." I even pointed out specifically in regards to the US, "This is probably not legal in most of the world (and probably wouldn't go over so well in the US at least)." I in no way suggest that the person should be forced to drink, or that they should "reveal their personal failings" as you put it. The OP asked a general question on how to welcome a team member. I provided several suggestions. Why the negativity? –  jmac Feb 27 '13 at 5:03
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@jmac I'm new to this site and I apparently don't understand the politics/appropriate way to ask questions, but I found your answer very helpful. I was able to pick out the pieces that were relevant to my situation/culture with ease, so I don't understand the negativity either. –  Kyle Wurtz Feb 27 '13 at 13:41
    
Glad I could help. I am a bit baffled (and new myself). Here's to learning I suppose! –  jmac Feb 27 '13 at 23:16
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Be direct.

If you want their opinion about current processes and suggestions about possible improvements, then ask them for it. If you just hang back, try to make them comfortable, and hope that they'll spontaneously volunteer the information you're looking for then I think most of the time you will be coming away disappointed (for all the reasons that kevin cline says).

Which isn't to say that you shouldn't try to make them feel comfortable, and moreover, safe when you initiate this discussion. Let them know that your company is always looking for ways to improve its internal processes, and that as part of that it's standard procedure to ask any new hires for their opinions on any issues and potential improvements that they see. Also let them know that anything they say will be held in confidence (and keep your word and do it).

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Right. Tell them so. Show them this question ;-) –  Jan Doggen Mar 1 '13 at 10:47
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Trust takes time and usually comes after you put your trust in the other person first.

Identify Known Problems People can be funny and don't want to criticize. Companies with the greatest profits can still do things better. It's rare that an entire organization is completely aware of their current situation. Most are in denial.

Reasons You Hired This Person There was something about him/her you discovered during the interview process that you liked. Build on a strong skill or a previous experience. Make the connection between what needs fixed and what this person is good at.

I heard a story where a new hire gave the CEO a list of problems with the company. The CEO informed the new hire that they were aware of them, but needed solutions. Seriously? How long were they planning on waiting to tell the new hires? These things should posted on the walls next to the "Teamwork" poster.

Genuinely try to get to know people. Build training sessions and meetings around lunch. Go have a cup of coffee. Take the time to have conversations and engage in small talk. Adults can go out and have a drink without getting drunk and making an ass out of themselves.

Ask Repeatedly And be willing to wait for an answer. You can't drop a question out of no where and expect a concise 3 bullet point presentation. If they have no answer, ask again. Show them these problems are important and you really want to know what they think.

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