Jump Onboard And Let’s Paddle


Have you ever watched someone try to jump onboard a moving boat?

It’s funny isn’t it?

It is a very difficult task to perform gracefully. It’s awkward for the person jumping and for those who are already in the boat. It most certainly jostles some waves and a little discomfort in the pit of stomachs.

That same experience is happening every day within teams and organizations around the world. New teammates or members will “onboard” and yet the experience is often far from graceful. The majority of the time it is awkward for the person jumping onboard as well as the people who are already in the boat.

You see, the boat is moving. Those in the boat have already gotten comfortable with the ride. They already know where they are heading (hopefully). They are in motion. They’ve got things to do. They don’t want to stop, to slow down, and certainly do not want to have to explain what they’ve already had to learn along the way. After all, they had to do it at one point too.

And the experience of the person jumping onboard generally isn’t enjoyable either. They feel the discomfort of trying to get caught up to speed. They aren’t exactly sure who everyone is or what exactly is happening. They feel awkward that they don’t know what the others clearly already do. It’s easy to not truly feel welcomed.

This is the all-too-familiar scene of the onboarding process in many teams and organizations on Planet Earth. Unfortunately, many places just aren’t very good at it. They might have you fill out some papers, show you where you’ll sit in the boat (office), hand you a paddle (computer), and then toss you a manual that describes what type of paddling they want you to do (job description). Then, it’s up to you to paddle or sink.

Fortunately, the best teams and organizations understand that the process to onboard someone actually begins during the hiring process. They see that it isn’t just about the task of getting them into the boat. They understand the artform of this entry and that the most effective onboarding examples are ones that take the longer and more thoughtful view.

In my work, I’ve supported the process to effectively onboard people in organizations and there are many keys to a more graceful and effective experience in the short-term as well as the long-term success of the company.  Here just a few examples of what the best do:

  • They Look At The Map, Together — before the person is even ready to get into the boat, they have taken the time to help the new teammate look at the map and discuss with them WHY they are traveling and WHERE they are attempting to travel together. There is a clear plan for their journey.
  • They Create Buy-In For The Journey, Together — there is passionate discussion focused not just on the destination, but on how they expect to travel together. They spend time discussing the culture they are trying to create every day by HOW they work, not just WHAT they do. They have clear language that is linked to action and behavior. Each member on the boat must buy-in and understand they are an ambassador for the culture of the boat.
  • They Set A Schedule To Refuel, Together — the onboarding process doesn’t end once they are in the boat, have their paddle and their manual. The best environments know that the development of their culture requires refueling after the first 30, 90, 180 and 365 days to return to consistent messages and make course corrections along the way. They know that good habits (and bad) are formed in the first year on the job.

The best have a commitment to their people and their process. The other nuance you might be picking up on is the word “Together.” The mindset is not “take your paddle and get paddling.” Instead, it’s “Let’s paddle together and go do some cool s#$%.” The best take time to honor the human element and spread a spirit of inclusion.

Good luck steering the boats in your life and work!

Travel Gracefully,



DSC_0097 - insideJason Barger is the globally celebrated author of Step Back from the Baggage Claim and ReMember, as well as a coveted keynote speaker and leadership consultant. More importantly, he’s striving to be an above average father, husband, and friend.

Follow on Twitter @JasonVBarger and learn more at JasonVBarger.com

PS. If you liked this blog post, you may also like these!

The Irrefutable Power of Teams

Thermometer Vs. Thermostat

Culture Management Matters