You're never alone when you're onboarded in a teal organization.
You're never alone when you're onboarded in a teal organization.

What might teal onboarding look like?

According to research…strong onboarding processes increase new hire retention by 82% and improve productivity by 70%.”  In practice, however, 88% of new hires don’t deem their onboarding process sufficient or a good experience. As part of the teal series, this post focuses on what teal onboarding might look like.

First, I’ll outline the typical ‘orange’ characteristics of onboarding, then what a more ‘teal’ approach might look like, and finally, a rough roadmap to transition from ‘orange’ to ‘teal’.

Orange onboarding

In a more traditional ‘orange’ organization onboarding is mostly administration-heavy in an all-at-once approach. According to Zippia, each new hire completes an average of 41 administrative tasks as part of onboarding.

The key characteristics of typical ‘orange’ onboarding include:

1. Administrative focus

A new employee typically receives a handbook with all the policies and procedures to go through before they start productive work.  They are also typically invited to attend several onboarding training sessions dependent on their role.

The focus of onboarding is administrative, providing all the procedural resources up-front. Onboarding is a necessary stepping stone that must be completed before any productive work can start.

2. Owned by Human Resources

The policies and procedures are typically owned by the Human Resources department. Originally designed to take the burden off having to repeat the same information to every new hire, which can become overwhelming at high growth times or when turnover is high, it serves as a repository of the written down rules of the organization.

The handbook ensures no important information is forgotten.  It provides each new employee with a complete reference regarding the general procedures like applying for leave or submitting time sheets.  It is an important asset that remains important in ‘teal’ organizations.

3. Focused on specific roles

Additional to the more general procedures like applying for leave, onboarding typically focuses on role-specific requirements and needs. A marketing hire will, for example, only have access to marketing resources. A new developer is shown the technical resources to familiarize themselves with the technology. A new accountant is introduced to the accounting software and procedures.

There is little to no overlap between different roles or departments other than the general support processes.

Teal onboarding

An organization operating from a mainly teal paradigm primarily focus on culture. Typically, onboarding aims to immerse the new hire into the culture.  Onboarding also aims to give a more complete understanding of the entire organization and value chain.

Below are the key characteristics and differences between ‘orange’ and ‘teal’ onboarding.  Although each organization might uniquely handle onboarding, these are the more general trends of how the most successful companies approach onboarding.

1. Just-in-time or on-demand information

One of the key differences between ‘orange’ onboarding and onboarding within a more ‘teal’ way of working is that information is rolled out over time rather than up-front.  People receive information as they need it, not before.

For example, they will only ask about or look up a leave procedure when they need to apply for leave. This approach reduces cognitive overload and with that, the risk of mistakes early on.

Rather than give a new hire a few days or week to go through all the written down procedures on their own, they are immersed in the organizational activities in a guided tour-like manner.  Like a buffet table filled with various dishes, onboarding aims to show the new hire all the different aspects and functions.  They can ask questions as they need the information or as uncertainty arises.

2. Rotational programs

As wholeness is such a big focus on ‘teal’ organizations, new hires are included and immersed in all the different functions to gain a complete understanding of the entire business. This supports the systems thinking approach and understanding of the impact of any change or project.  It also allows new hires to design a personal progression path. When, in future, they want more exposure to a specific function they can volunteer to a project in this capacity.

Another important consequence of rotation is that it supports cross-functional team formation. When a new project or task starts, they know what skills and resources are available and where to get them.

A key benefit that emerges from rotation is that the new hire is introduced to the shared vocabulary specific to the organization. One of the most confusing parts of working in a large ‘orange’ organization is the use of acronyms and different people having different understandings of the same words used based on their experience. In a ‘teal’ organization, this shared vocabulary can intentionally be introduced with the rotational program in a show-don’t-tell way as they move through each function.

3. Buddies and mentors

As culture is so important in a ‘teal’ organization a buddy or mentor is usually assigned to each new hire. This buddy or mentor is there to answer any questions the new hire might have while they are getting acquainted with the new ways of working.

The buddy can also serve as an accountability partner or peer coach. Once onboarding is complete the relationship might continue, or a new mentor or buddy can be selected.

The goal of these one-to-one relationships is to learn from each other and actively get to know each team member’s strengths and weaknesses to better support each other.  It also aims to increase resilience.  In a peer-coaching culture, people’s development is ingrained within the culture.

Getting from orange to teal

As onboarding is dealing with someone new to the organization with no prior expectations, changing the process is relatively easy.  Below is a possible roadmap to transition to a more teal way to onboard new hires.

1. Identify a suitable buddy or mentor

The first and most important thing to focus on is to identify a suitable buddy or mentor who will be available to answer questions.  This would typically be someone in the same function or a complementary function who can answer most questions the new hire might have on a practical level.

2. Invite changes and additions to the procedures

There’s an old saying “New brooms sweep clean.”   New people see the reality of things as they are without the filters and conditioning of the people who are used to things.  This makes the newest person in the team the most valuable asset to identify possible gaps and areas of confusion.

Invite new hires to suggest changes and additions to the procedures to improve the quality and maintain the accuracy and usefulness of the company handbook.

3. Plan for rotation

Finally, plan for rotation.  This is possibly the most challenging part as it requires coordination between different functions and balancing workload.

The goal of the rotation is to give everyone hands-on experience within each part of the system.  Identify low-risk, easy tasks that will give someone a good idea of what type of work gets done and how it gets done in each function.  These tasks will typically not require specialized skills.

The focus is merely to immerse new people into all areas so that they know what gets done where.  A key outcome is to have a better understanding of the impact of any project in the organization.  They will also know who to ask for help when needed.


Teal organizations place less emphasis on procedures and more emphasis on relationships and the culture when onboarding a new hire.

The goal is to give them the support they need, make them feel welcome, and create space for them to ask for what they need, understanding that each person might need something different to become proficient in their role.

Are you ready to transition to a more teal way of working?

Originally published in People Development Magazine: