Think back to your most recent first day of work at a new company. You were probably feeling excited but also a little, ummm… vulnerable? If it’s been a while, perhaps you have some vague memories of filling out paperwork, learning names and faces, and trying to find the bathroom. I can relate.

I joined Collective Next in September. It had been 9 years since I was the newbie and I was pretty anxious. For me, this wasn’t just a job change, it was a career change – albeit a complimentary one, from helping brands connect with their customers to create change, to facilitating change through art, storytelling and design. In the weeks leading up to my joining Collective Next, I thought a lot about what those first days and weeks might look like.

I wasn’t the only one thinking deeply about this transition; a few key people in the organization were also thinking about my first few weeks. My experience – and the creative, facilitative approach we used in my onboarding process – was pretty unique.

How does a company that is expert at facilitating change onboard a newbie?  

Focus on connecting intentionally… and be human
At T minus 5 before my first day, I received an email from Dave Rutley. As part of my onboarding plan, Dave had lined up one-on-one conversations with me and everyone I’d be working with – which was, everyone. All 28 employees.

Dave suggested to each of his peers a different discussion theme for our one-on-ones. These themes related to the business and spanned topics from roles, to culture, to models and methods. It was a way to create collective responsibility for getting me up to speed.

His ask of me was to write up and distribute a short autobiography in advance of the one-on-one meetings so I wouldn’t have to re-tell the story of my past work experience 28 times.

Writing about ourselves can feel awkward because ultimately we’re projecting an image, and we weigh each word much more than we would if we were having a dialogue.  As I thought about what image I wanted to project, I was reminded of the great work Brene Brown has done around social connection and vulnerability.  She talks about how human connection is often missing from workplaces.

I drafted my short biography and, after mulling it over a bit, realized it didn’t say much about me as a person, beyond the career highlights, stats and your basic “married with two kids.”  

Be your own process facilitator
Inspired by Ms. Brown, at the very end of my bio, I shared something deeply personal that matters to me – and I went a step further. I invited my future teammates to share something back by asking:

“What’s one thing about YOU I’d never know by looking at you?”

So what happened?
The responses I received and the one-on-one sessions that followed were illuminating on many levels – not the typical kinds of meetings you might expect to have in your first week at a new job. And that was the point. There was belly laughter! There were intellectual conversations and there were some emotional ones, too. Many cups of coffee were consumed as my new colleagues and I discussed work, family, friendships, personal histories and the cultural dynamics of the company. I discovered a lot about group dynamics. I was surprised by the diversity of backgrounds in the Collective Next community, and could see how each person uniquely contributes to the business and culture. These are things I may have picked up at some point, but certainly not in my first week, had it not been for those conversations.

While this approach may not work for every company culture, it was tremendously valuable for us. We went beyond simply sharing information to truly connect intentionally. Adding personal stories to the mix dramatically changed the tone of those initial conversations and helped build new relationships. My colleague Dave created a collective responsibility for onboarding me that not only gave me a view of the business I needed, it also gave me permission to reach out to each person after the one-on-ones when I had questions.

Finding the right ways to build connections and collaborate – and making it easy – is what exceptional facilitation is all about, and this warm welcome helped me experience it first hand from the very beginning.


Today marks Solution Designer Renee Piazza’s 1-month anniversary at Collective Next! Prior to joining Collective Next, Renee was a Vice President and Practice Lead at CSpace, where she led the Learning Design Practice Area. She brings a wealth of client experience, qualitative research, and consumer collaboration. More about Renee, including her wonderful secret superpower, can be found on our Team page.