New Employees Can Mean Trouble | Managing Team Chemistry

A filled vacancy starts with optimism. The boss is high on what the new employee can add to the team. Existing employees are relieved they didn’t have to absorb more work. 

Bosses usually start with an announcement before the person shows up. Employees hear about the new hire’s capabilities and experiences. They often hear high praise for how s/he will strengthen the team. Enough already! 

New employees mean change.   

Adding someone new to the mix changes its chemistry. A new teammate comes with unknowns like his/her: 

  • Personality traits, moods, ability and willingness to collaborate
  • Work ethic, skills and knowledge, learning curve
  • Personal aspirations, competitiveness, trustworthiness
  • Performance standards, communication style, principles

Existing employees are full of curiosity and questions, even if the new employee is someone they know or know about. Each will feel out the new person in their own way, deciding what kind of relationship they will try to build. In turn, they may also modify or adjust their relationships with others on the team. 

Everyone adjusts their alignments in some way. 

While this is going on, the boss is being watched to figure out: 

  • What is his/her relationship with the new employee?
  • Does the newbie enjoy any favored status?
  • Might the boss change his/her opinion of existing team members based on the way the new employee is accepted?  

By the natural order of things, the team dynamic starts to recalibrate. The pecking order is revisited. When supervisors don’t manage this change, they’re asking for trouble. 

Focus on the team 

Existing employees often feel diminished or even set aside when someone new comes on board. We often feel that we need to compete with this new person to show the boss that we are as good or better. 

The supervisor’s job is to create an environment where employees work effectively together, as a unit. That includes keeping a keen eye on the collective chemistry of the team, intervening when relationships aren’t what they need to be. 

Every time a new employee is added, the chemistry changes. It can be obvious immediately or surface gradually. Supervisors who guide these changes never miss a beat. 

Steps to take 

Smart supervisors take advantage of staff changes to refocus the team by following steps like these:

1. Gather the team together for introductions. 

  • Introduce the new employee and review their role.
  • Have each team member introduce themselves and summarize their role.
  • Comment, as the supervisor, on the value each contributes. 

2. Schedule a team meeting to revisit and update position descriptions. 

  • Explain the importance of keeping position descriptions current.
  • Have employees suggest description changes/additions/clarification.
  • Lead discussion to resolve issues and incorporate revisions.
  • Finalize description updates. 

4. Schedule a team meeting to review the status of work group goals. 

  • Share accomplishments to date and goals at risk.
  • Engage the new and existing employees in discussion about how they can/need to assist/support each other around specific goals.
  • State that you’ll be meeting with the new employee to finalize their individual goals so they align with the work group’s goals. 

5. Where useful, arrange for the new employee to spend time with each team member to learn about their work first-hand. 

The primary chemical element is you 

As supervisors, we are the first chemical element put in the beaker. The way we introduce and engage new employees demonstrates our recognition of how good chemistry can solidify a team. 

Supervisors who don’t understand or care about team chemistry will likely experience an eventual explosion. 

Show your team that you care by the way you manage their chemistry. There’s nothing better than elements that bond together to create something good. Avoid the big bang!  

Photo from Horia Varlan via Flickr


10 thoughts on “New Employees Can Mean Trouble | Managing Team Chemistry

  1. Hi Dawn,
    Great post! I wanted to share something else we do to help mitigate the chemistry issue. I have my managers & supervisors include team members in the (latter stage of) interview process. Once we’re close to making a hiring decision, we team members participate in observing a “test teach” (for a Trainer’s role, for example) and a Q&A session. They can ask and answer questions about each other and it gives us a little heads-up indication of how the chemistry might play out. It seems to help the existing team members be more engaged and open-minded about welcoming the new employee. And it’s also good for the candidate to get a feel for what they might be signing up for!
    Regards, Marisa

    • Marisa, that’s another great approach. It breaks down some of the “mystery” attached to a new colleague and gives existing employees a kind of early investment in the hire. That way from day one, the team has a head start, as you mentioned, in getting itself operating as one. Thanks so much for sharing this and enriching the message in the post. You department sets a great example! Best, ~Dawn

  2. Wonderful post Dawn.
    To keep focus on the team goals and update/review job descriptions. Also to have the team participate in the hiring and adaptation process. Very useful information – thanks.

  3. This is so true. I’ve seen this pattern 2 or 3 times in the past year. The cases where I’ve seen it most closely is with middle management hires rather than junior employees. The question of “how does this affect me?” is wondered by all though and is highly influenced by those initial introductions and behaviors. Behavior on both the side of the supervisor and on the side of the person newly hired.

    • Great example. It always starts with how well the manager is regarded by his/her employees. If they are team builders, the act of adding a new person is usually smooth. If they are team neglecters, there’s discomfort all around. I read a comment at Brazen that reminded me that team chemistry changes when a positive team member moves on, leaving the team feeling less secure. Sometimes that happens and there is no replacement. The strategies for realigning everything are important then too. Thanks for weighing in, as always, ~Dawn

  4. Although the title of the post is catchy, it made me “nervous.” It’s not the new employee that’s trouble; it’s the sensitive nature of team chemistry, which may not be great already. I know that’s what you then said.

    Your points about the supervisor’s role are excellent ones. I’m not sure if I would make that the time to review everyone’s job descriptions though, because it could appear that the review and emphasis on what employees job is or isn’t is the “fault” of the new hire. Thanks for making me think about this. Cherry

    • Yes, it’s not that new employees causes trouble but that the change can mean trouble when supervisors don’t do what’s needed to orient and ensure a smooth connection among team members. You’re always on to me!

      What I was proposing was that the supervisor use a review of job descriptions to make sure that all roles where clear and properly aligned, especially since most job descriptions sit in a file collecting dust. The only person who asks about “seeing a job description” is a new employee. Then they rarely think to ask about the other descriptions. Having that meeting to recalibrate descriptions is just one approach. It has to be presented properly so it doesn’t create any perception of “fault” by the new hire but as a best practice to keeping the team on the same path.

      Always great to have your perspective to stir around! ~Dawn

  5. Hi Dawn-

    I love the emphasis on the supervisor’s role as the lead in all aspects of setting the tone for the new hires. If the supervisor takes the time in the beginning, and it is a lot of time, then they will have less issues down the line.

    I’ve never understood a manager who adopts the “hands off” approach, b/c “we’re all adults.” Be that as it may, the chemistry changes, and sometimes drastically with the addition of a new member to any organization. Kind of like in group therapy (!)–sorry, couldn’t resist that one:).

    I like Marisa’s tip for including supervisors and team members in the hiring process. I think that helps make an informed decision, one where the existing members feel valued, and the prospective employee can decide if this is, or is not, a healthy dynamic to mix with.

    Good tips for avoiding a workplace mishap. Better to leave the chemical errors to the high school chemistry lab;).

    • You hit the nail on the head with this line about “a manager who adopts the “hands off” approach, b/c “we’re all adults.” What a cop out! They might as well just say, “From now on, just read my mind and everyone else’s in the team.” Leaders are supposed to lead. When they lead well followers follow…they won’t defect or attack each other. Everyone is on the same page moving toward a shared goal. Hey, loved your connection to group therapy…it’s a perfect illustration that interpersonal chemistry impacts all of us when we have to work together. Well said, Linda. Great comment! ~Dawn

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