4 conversations to have with your new team member

There are a few crucial conversations that we often overlook when we’re leading a new team member. We’re so gung-ho on diving into the ‘what’ of their work, that we sometimes forget to pause and talk about the ‘how’.

A bit of time spent, up front, focusing on the following things can save you (and them) a world of pain later. These conversation starters are a great way to set up your working relationship (and their performance) for success. Soon after they start – ideally at their first one on one – have a conversation about each of the following:

  1. How do you you like to receive feedback?

Giving feedback, especially redirectional feedback, is one of the most common teeth-gnashing experiences I hear from leaders. Many of us avoid it at all costs. We don’t know how to have feedback conversations effectively, so we wait too long to have them. You want feedback to be like the tides – two way, every day and no big deal. Establishing up front with your direct report that feedback is really good for them, and that they can expect to get it from you – as well as confirming how they most like to receive it – makes the whole process smoother.

It might go something like this: “I know that receiving feedback, both positive and constructive, has been really helpful for me. And I really want to offer the same for you. But I want to make sure I do it in a way that helps you. So, how do you like to receive feedback?  What has worked well for you in the past when you have received feedback? What should I avoid? If I see you coming unstuck, or I think there’s an opportunity for improvement, how do you want me to approach that with you?”

Don’t forget to shine a light on what you want to see grow. It’s not all about constructive or redirectional feedback; make sure you are giving lots of specific positive feedback when you see them do well too. Don’t hold back, especially in those early months. It doesn’t have to be complicated. See here and here for two short videos I created on some useful approaches to giving feedback.

  1. What aspects of the job are you feeling most confident about, and least confident about?

Most probably, your new team member is feeling a bit nervous, wanting to make a good start and give a positive impression. It can feel nerve-wracking for them to admit what they don’t know. Make it safe for them to highlight where they’re feeling confident and where they’re not. If you don’t get much response to the second question, ask them to notice this more over the next few weeks and come back to the question again.

Make it clear that you’re not looking to shame or blame here either. You can do this with a follow up question along the lines of: How can I best support you, especially in those areas where you feel less confident? Offer to make a plan to ensure they are getting the support you need, and then proactively follow that through.

  1. Can we have a discussion about what good looks like and what’s expected?

As Brene Brown says in her book, Dare to Lead, “clear is kind”. Yet so often we assume we are on the same page when it comes to painting expectations. (And you know what they say about assumptions!) Get really clear up front about what is expected, not only in terms of tasks, but also behaviour. A great conversation in general, and when assigning tasks, focuses on “what done looks like” – another gem from Dare to Lead. Getting granular is important. Make sure that this is a two-way conversation where you are asking lots of coaching questions like, “what’s important to you, when we are talking about this?” and “what will success look like for you in this situation?” “What will we/you be seeing and feeling if you do this well?” is another great one. And once again, ask, “where do you think you might need support? Remember, it’s not only ok to ask for help when you don’t know, it’s a really GOOD thing.”

  1. Can we have a conversation about your strengths and how we can move you towards working from them even more?

Identifying strengths and then working from them as much as possible is not only good for performance, but it’s also been proven to buffer us from burnout – and we all want that for those we lead. Take the time to work out where your new person’s ‘zone of genius’ lies – and see how you can get them working in that space as much as possible.

Ask them: 

  • What are you good at?
  • What do you love doing?
  • Where do these things cross over?

Very simply, that’s a clue to their strengths. You can also use StrengthsFinder or Red Bull’s Wing finder – both free online assessments – to help you and your team member start to identify those unique strengths.

If we want our new team member to flourish and thrive (which is a no brainer huh?), we need to give them the best start possible. And that means having these important conversations, with compassion and curiosity, up front. So, the next time you welcome someone to the team, remember these four conversation starters.


  1. Dennis Vogel on April 1, 2022 at 9:24 am

    This can be adapted for customer service. People want to create benefits, but shy beginners need guidance based on their conditions.

    • Suzi McAlpine on April 1, 2022 at 12:01 pm

      Great point Dennis

    • Dennis Vogel on April 2, 2022 at 8:46 am

      Hi Suzi,
      Since you approved my brief comment, I’m including an example.
      What aspects of the job are you feeling most confident about, and least confident about?
      This can be adapted for customers:
      What aspects of the project are you feeling most confident about, and least confident about?
      Let’s build your confidence while you build your project.
      Some people learn well from audio/video tutorials, but others prefer to read.
      Should we find videos or are you more comfortable reading books or articles?
      Which tools & materials have you used most?
      Do you want to take pictures as you finish steps so we can review your progress?

  2. Heidi on March 27, 2022 at 6:56 am

    Thank you. It was fascinating to do the Red Bull Wing finder assessment. Will keep it with me as I tackle the next stage of career : )

  3. Earl Thomas on March 25, 2022 at 11:46 am

    Thanks Suzi,

    Great tips. When this is done workers or people in any situation will not fear feedback but will welcome it. Grateful for your great content for my podcast & looking fwd to posting your interview this coming Monday,

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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