How Novices Contribute to a Team’s Success
Everyone on the team has experience leading, but one member doesn’t have technical knowledge. She was hired for character, attitude, and leadership skill. But she didn’t know anything about the technical aspects of the business. I’ve been working with the team about six months.
It’s takes courage to swim with three boys who know a lot about the business when you don’t.
During a recent team meeting, Mary mentioned her lack of knowledge. I said, “I hope – in the next few months – you stop bringing up your lack of technical knowledge.” That’s when the experts in the room chimed in.
Our meetings include laughter and sometimes tough topics. When I challenged Mary, the boys said her lack of technical expertise is an asset.
Mary sees through a novice’s eyes. The boys said, “Her questions reveal that we aren’t as clear as we think. She sees gaps.”
When a technical novice works to find clarity, the team finds clarity.
Curiosity and bravery make inexperience an asset. When you courageously ask ‘dumb’ questions, the people in the room realize there’s another way to look at things.
Experience ‘knows’ and does the same thing over and over. But a kind, insightful, and courageous novice throws a wrench in established ways of thinking.
The desire to feel respected and contribute doesn’t always depend on competency.
Dumb questions are the bravest, smartest thing novices bring to the table.
*Mary isn’t her real name. She’s not a novice when it comes to leading.
How might teams maximize the value of novices on the team?
What concerns you about adding novices to a team?
Love the newbies — their first 100 days are their most insightful…
“and why do you do it THIS way?”
Exactly! Thx Ken
This was huge for me! I started as a contractor at a big airplane manufacturing plant back in 2011 and had no idea how the processes worked. But I had a supportive team around me and was always asking “why” this or that. Most of the time I got the standard “…that’s how we’ve always done it…” response and I’d always try to counter that with “…how would you do it differently…better…?” and pull from the experienced machinists. At one point I got very brave and called them out by saying that I knew they hadn’t always done it this way – the company had started out making airplanes with canvas and wood, someone along the way found a better way. Ha! But this “novice” thinking has helped me and ten years later I’m now in supply chain with that company as a permanent employee. I have also gone on to earn a Masters in Organizational Leadership; even so, I try to keep the “novice” mindset and curiosity engaged. It helps to keep me from getting complacent! It is easy to fall into the rut of just doing your job instead of constantly working to learn new things and new ways. During the pandemic my team has been 100% virtual and we started doing monthly “Best Practices” meetings that take the place of us being able to stand up and look over the cubicle wall to ask each other for help. It’s been a great opportunity to keep connected as well. Thank you for this post!
Newbies energize me and assist greatly with my legacy in insurance loss control and risk mgmt. I love them, love working with them, and sharing in their successes!
How might teams maximize the value of novices on the team? Knowing when they communicate sometimes we need to speak “the language of all”, as compared to we. Remember when you were the “Newbie”. Just saying….
What concerns you about adding novices to a team? Learning to cover everything so they understand. Don’t throw them under the us and leave them to trail behind, help them get up front and up to speed. “I’m giving all the power we have captain”.
Thanks Dan for this blog post. “New eyes and ears” are critical in any organization. This is why it is so important that we as leaders establish an environment (psychologically safe) where everyone has a voice at the table, and dissenting views are encouraged.
Novices are good for a team if 1) they have a good attitude, 2) seek to build aptitude, 3) are passionate about learning, 4) show discipline in their own way, 5) are organized, & 6) are a pleasure (not a burden) to work with. Even non-technical staff (as you noted) can bring value to a technical discussion and even learn the technical basics being discussed. Even technical staff that concentrates on one Engineering type can cross learn other engineering basics. I recently spend some time with one of a customer’s young Electrical Engineers (he’s 24, I’m a seasoned 64) showing him the “civil Engineering design concepts and styles” of a particular Transformer installation. He would have never known about it unless I stepped him through it. How did I know about it, I am “seasoned” so I’ve seen more than a few details (even beyond Electrical Engineering) in my career. He would have never learned about “2000#cementous slurry boxed in” vs “just a 6″ slurry” arrangement.
I love that your post points out asking those “dumb” questions. I believe we all fear those when in the end they can truly be of help!
Hi Dan, you’re commenting on how novices bring dumb questions to the table can be a positive thing for your team rings true to me. I particularly appreciate when new members join the team and ask questions to clarify a certain process, and cause introspection on how might we be able to clarify our process and potentially improve it.
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