Cohesive On-Boarding for Team and Product Evolution

Knowledge / Inspiration

Cohesive On-Boarding for Team and Product Evolution

Enabling the Team
UXDX USA 2021

One of the benefits of cross functional teams is that everyone starts together so they have a deep understanding of the space. This works easily for a small team, but what happens when you try to translate that within a large rapidly scaling organisation such as Netflix?

In this session, Fonz will share his template for success building out design teams at both startups and enterprises. From a design perspective he will share how you can improve:

  • Getting the "new team" up to speed fast: Transfer knowledge in the best way as they join.
  • Facilitating new people to implement great ideas early while still lacking full product knowledge

Good morning, everyone. My name is Alfonzo Morris and I am so excited to be participating in UXDX this year. I am going to discuss Cohesive On-Boarding for Team and Product Evolution. I have build a lot of teams, whether they're startup or all the way up to enterprises. And I just want to share some of my thoughts on how I've been successful at it. So sit back and enjoy the presentation. So quick facts about me. I'm from Brooklyn, New York. I currently live in San Jose, California. My pronouns are he and his I'm actually a self-taught designer. I did not go to design school. I have a degree in Computer Science. I've been working in the design space for almost 20 years now. I'm really proud of that. I was previously a growth designer at Comcast, which is a big telecommunication company in the United States. Coursera, which is one of the lead online education platforms, as well as I founded two companies and I've done a ton of advising for startups. So I noticed growth space pretty well. And now I'm currently the lead product designer at Netflix for Global Convergence. So, teamwork makes the dream work. That's my motto, honestly, and being in tech, I realized how important cross team collaboration is, communication is and how important onboarding is, honestly. So today what I want to share with you are three things. How you can improve on getting the new team up to speed fast and transferring knowledge in the best way, supporting new teammates to implement great ideas. While learning about the product and then something that's just so important to me, which is just building trust early amongst the team. Trust is the backbone of a good working relationship. So first I want to say, I think it all starts with hiring. Right? And when I say that, I mean, understanding what did your team need overall and is the person who you hired the right person for this position. Why do I say that? So when somebody starts on the team, they're super nervous, they're ready to show the team that they're the right person for the job and their number one question most likely out the gate is going to be, what am I going to be doing? What do I do first? Right? And when you can't answer that question from the beginning, it kind of throws the new hire or the new teammate off. So not that you need to have everything planned out, but if you from the beginning can just give somebody an inkling of what area they may be in, some of the things they'll be working on that allows them to get familiar with stuff on their own. And they won't be in this weird purgatory trying to figure out what's going on, which ends up happening a lot to new hires. It's happened to me. And I'll discuss this later on why I think Netflix did it in such a good way, compared to some of my previous companies that I'm onboarded too. So just make sure as a team, you have that communication amongst each other internally up, what's this person going to be doing, what areas they'll be focusing on. So when they get started, you can easily communicate to that thumb that helps them get confidence from day one. And it allows everybody to start off from the right foot. So, what I want to do is discuss what my virtual onboarding at Netflix was like, because I think it was a very very good example of helping me get started, which ended up allowing me to be very helpful to the team, successful on the team and help future designers that came after me be successful at Netflix. So I joined right after the coronavirus hit. So I've actually never been to my Netflix campus. I've never met any of my co-workers in person. And for some people that's kind of scary, for me it actually worked out pretty well. And I'll go through the reasons of why joining a company like this and physically never meeting anybody or being in the office didn't really slow me down too much at all. One thing that's super important is patience. Patience with yourself. And if you're a manager or someone in a leadership position, patience with that new person that's started, giving them time to learn the ropes. Second, fostering an environment that allows people to always ask questions. If they're new, they're going to have a ton of questions. And if they start off not feeling safe to ask those questions, then that can pinch a snowball into some tricky situations. And then last, I'll say it's meetings. And I am not promoting meetings, but I am promoting meetings, but I'm promoting the right meetings because with the right meetings, the individual can learn what they need to learn. They can start to build relationships and they can get all the information that they need to get going and build relationships, meet new people and start to feel comfortable in the company. So I'm going to go deeper into each one of these. I just wanted to give like a quick high level of the three topics that I want to discuss today. So something else I want to slot in there is from day one, you want to foster a two-way communicated environment. You want the new hire or the new teammate to feel comfortable asking questions and talking to the team and you want the team to do the same as well. You want the team to involve the new person, ask them questions, reach out to them, make them feel comfortable. They're new, they don't know anybody. So most likely they're trying to figure out their bearings. And when you get that kind of internal support from your teammates, it feels really good from the beginning. It lets them understand the culture of the team. And then lastly, communication is the key to me. So I also want to throw something else in there. Actually, my secret weapon that I've realized is documents. And I know that sounds so boring. Right? But it's so important. And then plus empathy, you have to have empathy through every step of everything. You have to always be caring and thinking about the person who is on boarding, or if you're the one on boarding, you want to have empathy for the team. Empathy is something that goes both ways. But why do I want to highlight documents is because at Netflix, we have documents for everything. I've never worked at a company that has so many documents. And when I started it was so overwhelming, but after I worked there long enough, I realized how important it was because I was able to always go and get the information I needed. It wasn't hearsay. I wasn't digging through Figma files. I wasn't trying to track down employees that had worked in no more. Everything was organized in these documents. And that's what I spent my first, actually, almost month at Netflix, it's just reading. I had so much information to get caught up on that these documents help, whether they were project kickoff docs, test specs, UX specs, meeting notes, research notes, all of these different things I spent my first two months reading that because I didn't know what was going on. And for me to jump right into trying to design things or solve problems without having to context of what what's going on, what has been done. That's just not the right way to get started at an organization like this. I'll also say people can't read your mind, right. So but they can read a doc, so that's why you want to foster this communication where there's enough information for people to get whatever they need and be successful. And the last piece I'll say, I kind of tweak this a little bit because it used to be the garbage truck. What happens if someone got hit by a garbage truck, but that's not positive to me. So I'll say what if someone hits the lottery on your team and quits immediately? If the team's going to be stuck, will the team not be able to move forward because that person had all of the knowledge internally and never wrote it down or never shared it. It happens a lot in product, that happens a lot of design and that happens a lot in engineering. And that's why you don't want that in your organization. You want everyone to write down what's going on, share the notes. Also documents are a great way for communication. People can leave comments, they can be organic, they can grow together. And that's how you keep everybody involved. And I've never really knew how important documentation was until now. And so moving forward, everything I'm working on, I'm logging in and I'm talking to other designers about doing that. I'm talking to other teams and that's just the way I plan on having my design career. Moving forward, as well as instilling those principles into new designers that come on board or new engineers, just everybody on a product team, we're just super document heavy. So I just wanted to slot that in there as a secret weapon. So asking questions, right? I just found out from my team that my curiosity was something that really excited the team. And I didn't even realize it from that perspective. I just didn't know what was going on. I didn't want to make any assumptions. So I just started asking questions. And to be honest with you, how else will somebody learn if they don't ask questions or have documents? So some of the things I'm saying, they won't sound super futuristic, but they're obvious, but a lot of companies don't even really focused on these things that I'm saying like that. You want people to be able to feel that their advice, well, their perspective is respected. Which helps build confidence, which you need confidence all the time as a designer that helps people not start to foster imposter syndrome, as well as if you're new to the team you have fresh eyes, which means you have a new perspective on things. Which will most likely be very valuable to a product team. If everybody's been nose down on this, they'd probably come up with their own tunnel vision with something. When you have a new person that can come in, ask questions and feel comfortable giving their input. That's a true beginning sign of a successful team. If that person comes in and is nervous to ask questions and build that they have to figure out all this stuff on their own, that's not the true principles of teamwork. So you want people to always feel comfortable and there is no such thing as a bad question. Maybe that question is. Old to you or easy to you to the next person that may be brand new, that may be complicated. So you want to have that empathy to make them feel comfortable, being able to, to ask questions. Like I said earlier, meetings super important. When I first started at Netflix. I had all of the right meetings set up for me. I had to do one-on-ones with every cross-functional partner that I was going to work with. It wasn't geared into a certain timeframe that I had to do it. It was more about my team wanted me to understand the lay of the land, they wanted me to learn. Everybody's strong points. They wanted me to understand who the data science team was, understand who the research team, engineering content design. Why? Because we all work together. And if I'm just getting started, knowing who my teammates are, is super, super critical. And through these one-on-ones I was able to learn about them. They were able to learn about me and be at the beginning seeds that you want to plant to help someone feel comfortable and to build these relationships, squad things. Another meeting that we have. It's not a standup, it's more a way for all of us to get together, share work, sometimes we talk about work. Sometimes we don't, it's all about once again, building relationships and because we're remote, and even when you aren't remote, people don't always only want to talk about work. And that's not how you learn about people is only focused on our work, someone, our stand-ups. We played music at the beginning. We talk about life. You're talking about things that are inspiring us. We talk about internal issue that maybe, that somebody may have an opinion on. And I just think this environment of fostering communication is so important and that's what I would, squad things are about. We have tons of design crits, like most people would have, but we also have smaller things called like a speed run, where to keep everybody up to date on what everybody's working on, because there's so many people on our team. Everybody gets one minute to talk about what they're doing. You give a high level overview, you share a little bit of designs. There's no questions. It's really just so nobody's just completely who is to what other people on the team are doing, or you're not just so focused on only what you're doing because a lot of our work is very very overlapping at Netflix. So it was really good for me, somebody that's on a growth team to understand what somebody is doing on the member space, if I'm funneling users from growth into to member. So by us always knowing what everybody's doing, you can ask, well, not ask questions, but you can as far as after the event, but at least everybody knows what's going on and that's really really important so that nobody feels behind, it's very inclusive and then the last other piece I'll say is the off-sites that we do are amazing. They're just really about team building exercises. We do a lot of work together as engineers and designers, but do we laugh together? Do we joke together? Do we tell stories together? And these off-sites is where this type of team building happens and they're so valuable, and this is where you start to really learn people. And I supposed to them just being the engineer on your team, now you know, deeper information about them, but they know more about you. And this is how you build that friendship that you really will end up needing depending on how complex things are sometimes compromise and friendships is what gets you through those rough times. And empathy, always empathy, like I said. And then patience, I think one of the why I'm bringing up patience is when I started Netflix, of course I was nervous. I didn't know what I was going to be doing. I wanted to make sure I was showing up and I was the rock star that everybody thought I was and every single person I spoke to said, Fonz, relax. You don't have to design anything. You don't have to prove anything. You don't have to show anything. We know what your capabilities are. That's why we hired you. Actually, we want you to relax and learn the space, learn what's going on because once you get past this space, we're going to be expecting you to pick it up and go running. But we're not expecting that from day one. And that was so important to me because I was able to take the time, like I said, and read through all the documents and learn the culture, learn the team structure, get fully up to date. Netflix is a super huge company, super complex. So for me to jump in and immediately start trying to work and produce things, that's just not the right perspective. And I don't think that's the right perspective for it or anybody starting a new job. I know at a smaller company, maybe you have a shorter timeframe and you got to get things out the door, but you still need to give that teammate time to learn what's going on so that they can give their best and not be confused and not make assumptions about things. And I think that just comes down to just having patience with people and patience with yourself. And then a last thing that I'll say a lot of new hires or new teammates really respect this. It's something as simple as like a 30, 60, 90 day plan, where you can give them a slight idea of what they should be doing now, they'll be able to gauge where they are on this plan. And that structure really really helps. A lot of times people start new places and that structure is not there. And I think that structure is what missing that structure is what allows doubt. Like it allows people to just not be able to show up as much as they can. And I had a great 30, 60, 90 day plan, honestly. I want to read off some of the stuff that I actually had to do. So I had this amazing onboarding doc that just went through. Everything was so robust. I told my design manager that I really appreciated the time that she spent building this. And then we use this for other designers that came after. So I gave my feedback on what I liked about this doc, what I didn't like about this doc. And we then turned this into our template pretty much. So now we know every time a designer starts, they're at least going to have this amazing document that talks about the communication tools. We use video conferencing tool, who all the teammates are, all the memos, all the links, all the meeting days. She even helped me lay out because I didn't know anybody who I should be trying to talk to these first couple of weeks. She didn't say when. But she just helped me with that list because if not I have been and trying to figure all of this stuff out on my own. By having this support, when I got past this first onboarding process, I hit the ground running. I mean, it was so successful and this is not about me patting myself on the back or none of that. It's about, hoping you understand the value of when you give somebody the information in the context that they need to be successful, it's a big difference than I'm trying to figure it out on their own. And back another example I'm going to give is inside this document, it broke down all of the teams that I would possibly be working with. And that was so important to me because I just didn't know who I should be talking to about anything in. As a growth designer, I talked to way more than just other product designers, but if I don't know which team is this, which team is that, who's this, who's the right, who's the wrong person to talk to. That ends up just making things way more confusing. And I luckily didn't have to go through that. So think about what that onboarding doc could be like for somebody that's starting on a new team or a new project, they don't have to be new to the company, but if they're new to the team, they're probably going to have questions. And this is that document that allows them to have all the information that they need. And then the last piece I want to say is you want to build an environment where people feel safe coming to work and being their authentic self, where people want to be able to ask for help if they need help, people want to be able to support other designers that need help or other teammates that need help. You want a fun environment. You want an environment where everybody is really really happy to come to work. I've worked in some environments where I didn't have that. And the down part about that is I wasn't able to focus on my work, as much as I wanted to, I was focused on a lot of extraneous things that distracted me from being the best designer that I can be. So once I got out of that situation, I decided moving forward that I was always going to try to build these environments, that was a complete opposite of those environments that I was in. And that's why I love reaching out to people just to say, hello, good morning. I reach out to people and ask them how their weekend was. And it's nothing work-related. I tell jokes. I played music at the beginning of my meetings. I do all of these things to try to just keep that human side to work. I know we're busy. I know we have a lot of responsibilities, but at the end of the day, under every designer, under every engineer, under every PM. It's a person and that's who you want to be building these relationships with. You don't want to know people as, oh, that's the engineer on my team. The person has a name. You should be on a first name basis with them and work should feel a lot more communal and fun than always just technical and serious. And I just refuse to do anything other than that, that's easier for me. That's easier said than done. So I'm not trying to project this to anybody listening or watching, I'm just trying to give an idea. This is a lot of things that's missing and when I get feedback from my team, these are a lot of the things that they said that they really did appreciate. They appreciate that fellowship. That just, I feel like I can talk to you Fonz. I feel like I can come to you, whether it's good or bad, and this all supersedes the fanciness of what I do for my job. This is just pretty much emotional intelligence. And I really focus on that a lot because I love building relationships. I like to keep relationships after I leave the company. So if that bond wasn't built there, then you can't really do that. So I think it's really about building a team is the basics. It's respect, it's honesty, it's communication, it's trust. It's all those simple things. It's not as hard as people with me. And then it's also the last piece of empathy and being able to compromise with things. I'm a good compromiser because I don't think I have all the answers to it. To anything. I know I don't, and this is where I really like to show people my understanding of that when I reach out and I'm like, well, what do you think? What do you think, I want to hear your side? I don't know. You're the expert in this spot, giving people that respect, that they've worked so hard to obtain, it goes a long way because you'll start to realize when you start paying attention to certain things, you'll notice some people may not hear that they're a great engineer or they're great manager, or they're a fantastic data scientists as much as you would think. So when you give people compliments like that, It's genuine. People appreciate it. They love it. It goes a long way. And you'll start to see your team vibing and working out a way better and more comfortable level when everybody's always focused on those things. And one last piece, I'll say that's super important is inclusivity. You want to build an environment where everybody feels included. No matter what it is, whether you're a male or female, whether you're American or international, all of those things are important. And they need to be respected. And that's why at Netflix, we have a very inclusive culture and anytime somebody feels like it's not inclusive, we support feedback. We support speaking up because we want everybody to feel happy and comfortable when they come to work. And that's my talk. Let's stay in contact. Please reach out to me. I would love to keep this conversation going if possible. I'm on LinkedIn. I'm on Twitter and you can go to my website. I respond to everybody that ever reaches out to me because I'm very passionate about design and I'm very passionate about mentoring and supporting other people in the space. So if you enjoy this talk or if you want to give me some feedback on this talk, things I could have improved, the things that I missed out on, or you just want to say hi, reach out. Trust me. I'm here. Thank you. Thank you. UXDX. Amazing amazing opportunity for me. This was my first international conference.

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