“We’re scaling up quickly and hiring too fast to catch everyone.” Or, “We give new governance members a brief overview of the agreement. They’re smart, they’ll figure the rest of it out.” This is what we’ve been hearing from many alliance professionals about their approach to onboarding new project team and governance committee members. Thus, it’s no surprise that in even the best performing alliances we’ve evaluated over the past few years using our VitalSigns™ Alliance Operations Effectiveness Assessment, only 60% of governance committee and project team members report onboarding about the norms of the alliances and just slightly more report being onboarded about their deliverables as alliance team members. This is a missed opportunity to deliver a valuable service to stakeholders.
The Benefits of Comprehensive Onboarding
There are three components to robust onboarding of new alliance team members:
- The Role – The standards and expectations of alliance governance committee and project team members
- The Norms – The expected way of behaving to bridge differences, collaborate effectively, and build a one-team mentality
- The Work – The specific responsibilities of the company, governance committee, or project team, including the work done to date, key decisions made, as well as upcoming deliverables, decisions, and inflection points
When people are fully briefed, they are engaged and quickly connected to the work of the team. They take initiative and are more secure in offering of themselves. They quickly add value and don’t waste their time “figuring it out” or waste the team’s time by questioning decisions that have already been made, causing churn and frustration among the team. A comprehensive onboarding also helps build the desired alliance culture because it is articulated and consistently communicated.
Taking a Programmatic Approach to Onboarding
When partnering and alliances are part of a company’s strategy, working effectively with partners should be part of the culture. This means onboarding should begin in the hiring process. It also suggests that it needs to be programmatic and while the alliance management team is accountable, they are not the only ones responsible for implementing it.
The following five-part program makes onboarding a continuous process, not a discrete event. It also brings team leaders into the process so that people outside of governance are appropriately informed – a scope that is nearly impossible for an alliance professional to achieve alone.
Engage Human Resources
Messaging about the importance of partnering should be part of how the company presents itself to the world and potential employees. Work with Human Resources/Talent Acquisition and perhaps Corporate Communications to create an orientation package that includes basics on “Alliances at Our Company.” Some organizations create partnering basics videos to include in the initial training new employees are required to complete
Create Content on Individual Alliances
As part of the startup of every alliance, the assigned alliance professional creates a “living” briefing book for each alliance that includes an agreement summary and information about the partner that is relatively static. This is posted in the team collaboration site and links to other key documents, such as governance rosters, team charters, and stakeholder maps that are updated periodically.
Recruit the Team
As mentioned above, the alliance professional can’t assume responsibility for onboarding all project team members. Instead, they should develop a toolkit for project and other working team leaders and help them understand that part of their role as an alliance team leader is to onboard new members to their team about the alliance.
The alliance professional personally onboards the key members of governance committees, especially the Joint Steering or Executive Committee. They should use this briefing process to help establish a relationship with the individual and to set expectations about how they will be supported as a governance member. It is also a good time to discuss what is expected of them as a governance member. If an alliance has many governance committees, there may be some for whom the chairman/committee lead assumes responsibility for onboarding, similarly to project team leaders.
Hold Open Forums
A practice that works well with large alliances or those that are in a scaling up mode is for the alliance professional to organize and conduct open meetings for anyone who has recently joined the alliance. Usually these are held quarterly and use the same material that is available through the briefing book. They are an opportunity to give everyone consistent information. They are also a chance for the alliance professional to meet team members and communicate the role of the alliance professional in the desired way, not leaving it to subject to misinterpretation.
Building a scalable, comprehensive alliances onboarding program is crucial for ensuring new governance and team members get the right information upfront to allow them to seamlessly integrate into ongoing operations. It facilitates knowledge transfer, helps build the desired alliance culture and minimizes the risk of lost momentum when there is turnover on the team. For new alliances, it expedites team formation and helps everyone get a running start on working to achieve the alliance’s objectives.