One of Steve Jobs’ most famous quotes comes from the kickoff to the 1997 Apple Think Different campaign: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes … the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo.” Jobs might have been referring to visionaries or to the customers who crave the products those visionaries produce, but if we want to benefit from diversity, the same applies to the people we hire within our teams.

HBR published an article recently on the subject: “Why You Should Invest in Unconventional Talent” . In it, the authors provided some good suggestions on how to hire such round pegs but is hiring where the challenge ends?

Culture gets created by the people within a team and when you introduce someone who is sufficiently different from the others one of two things can happen. Their uniqueness results in a shift within the existing culture or their uniqueness gets suppressed and the culture remains constant. The newcomer’s job satisfaction and likelihood of retention are likely to be higher in the former scenario.

Having the team leader remind everyone in the team in the days leading up to the newcomer’s arrival that change is uncomfortable and that the team will be going back through the forming-storming-norming phases but that they should be mindful of their reactions to the new team member’s behavior can help.

Effective onboarding is crucial, especially when it comes to helping the newcomer learn the team’s way of working.

If there are a few ground rules which the team highly values and is unwilling to change, those should be explicitly communicated to the new team member. This should have happened during the hiring process but if not it needs to be part of the the initial orientation phase. This is not to say that the new arrival shouldn’t be encouraged to question the rationale behind those agreements, especially if they feel the rules will pose a challenge to them. And if there is a very good reason why those rules might need to be tweaked, the team should be open to that, otherwise they will be sending a clear message to the new arrival that they are going to be “Borg’ed”. Once they get their feet wet, the new team member should also be given the opportunity to add to the team’s working agreements.

Assigning a buddy to support the new team member is also a good practice. This buddy should be someone who can be trusted to listen to the newcomer’s concerns but to keep those to themselves and to provide support and constructive feedback to help with the integration process.

But underlying all of this is psychological safety. If the leader and the team are unwilling to extend Inclusion and later, Learner safety, the team won’t benefit from the uniqueness of the new team member.

B.A. Baracus might have called “Howling Mad” Murdock a “crazy fool” in episodes of the 1980’s TV show, the A-Team , but he and the others respected his role within the team and effectively benefited from his “mad” skills as a pilot.

What are you doing to retain the Murdocks within your team?

(If you liked this article, why not pick up my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on Amazon.com  and on Amazon.ca  as well as a number of other online book stores)

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