Belonging – The importance of making new team members feel welcome and how to do it

Can you remember that one class at school that you loved to be at? Take a minute to think about that classroom and think about the teacher. They were probably your favourite teacher right?

That’s because they created an environment where you were able to excel, that you could comfortably share your thoughts, ask questions and engage in the class. You learning was likely a lot more effective because of the environment and the teachers way.

Now think of the time you first joined a new team at work. Before giving yourself away you probably wanted to feel comfortable, you maybe didn’t feel at ease, you didn’t quite know the environment and wanted to scope the team out. You wouldn’t have performed or contributed to particularly engaging, effective discussion. After several weeks you’d begin to ease up, give a more meaningful impact on the team. Start to build deeper relationships and open up about your personal life.

This is all very natural stuff and in fact the psychology behind this dates back hundreds of thousands of years to our ancestors hunting food and being members of a tribe. We love to be part of a group.

Walking into a new team or not feeling as though you belong has unprecedented side effects. We feel anxious, we become terrified of rejection, we aren’t ourselves and our performances decrease along with it. But when we experience belonging, our body produces all the nice brain food we love, oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins.

Our need to belong is hardwired from our ancestors from early homo sapiens. That survival was based on working as a team and that we belonged to a group. That’s how we survive. We work together, we perform highly together, we thrive together. Belonging is a key pillar identified in Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.

In 2022, I went to Mexico with my wife Sophie and my eldest, Jasper, who was 18 months at the time. I was sat around the pool while Jasper was taking his nap from hating the heat and I was reading Owen Eastwood’s ‘belonging’. I was anxious, there were Latinos, Americans, Europeans from different tour operators, but when I met someone who spoke English. Poof…there was a instant sense that I wanted to know that person and want them to be a part of my holiday. That’s because there is a link that the English person held some similar values to what I had. Because he was from the same country, that while I felt isolated being around people who were from different parts of the world, speaking different languages, that English person I met, went some way to fulfil my need to be part of a group wider than mine or my family.

What happens when you make holiday friends? You have more than likely already done it and know how it feels. You become more confident, you start to engage in those hotel activities, you’re happier and feel more content that you have met someone you can engage with, that if it came to it, you had someone you could team up with.

This feeling is no different to what you feel at work or when you become part of a new team. So how do we apply this to our work teams, to ensure that new team members get off to the best start possible?

Connecting your team and new members to heritage

In the book I mentioned above ‘belonging’, Owen Eastwood, a successful performance coach from New Zealand, explains that his native country uses a term called ‘whakapapa’ to describe the values that many New Zealanders work to.

Whakapapa is a sense of purpose for what the group stands for and the connection to history, whatever that may be. To learn from past failures and successes.

For example, I work in a seafood business which supplies to many of the large supermarkets. In Grimsby, UK, where we are based we are famous for our docks, once being the largest importer of seafood in Europe.

As a seafood processor there is a rich connection with our ancestors dating back 100s of years, where our founder, Grim, was said to be a fisherman himself originating from Denmark. This connection brings a sense of pride that we follow in their footsteps, working and refining an industry which put our town on the map. This is the foundation of our belonging which all new team members are introduced to.

They don’t have to know the team or the business to be feel very much a part of something great. So this is a great foundation from which to build that sense of belonging, already they are part of something bigger.

Company Values

I have written I previous blogs about company values and vision. This is the point where you really hammer them home and introduce them to new team members. Setting an example before they’ve even got going.

It’s a case of ‘this is what we stand for, this is what we do, this is who we are’. This is the culture they are walking into, the standards that are set. Connecting the values that your company stand for.

I’ve never seen a negative company value before, they are all positive. It’s great to show some of these values in action. As you walk through workplaces, team spirit, integrity, stories of what has previously happened and how we have grown. Buy in, into these values is a important part of a new member of your team feeling as though they belong.

Use the words Us/We

‘We fall together, we rise together’

Language is extremely important in the developing of an inclusive culture. By using the words ‘us’ and ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ or ‘they’, you are stating that you’re part of something which is bigger and more together than yourself or any one member of a team. If it’s an individual piece of work that has been implemented, it becomes part of the team’s work.

As a leader, using this language becomes even more important as your team follows your lead. At the end of the day whether someone invents or implements something which is hugely successful it is because the team has allowed that headspace for them to be able to get it there in the first place. So when we say it’s a team effort, it truly is a team effort.

Buddy Up

One of the most welcoming things you can give someone onboarding is a ‘buddy’, someone who is a peer that can show them the ropes, someone who has is an already integrated member of the team and knows the ins and outs of the business, its procedures and people.

Most new team members will most likely be given an induction, they’ve had a factory tour, they’ve been shown where the canteen is and the actions of what to do in the event of a fire or emergency. But a buddy gives more than that, the best things to eat, access to their network, tips and tricks of how to complete their responsibilities. This kind of insight can make a person feel a warm welcome as they start to become integrated into the new environment and culture.

A buddy will also help with the training. A trainer or supervisor may come and show the new team member the basics of the job, the actions to complete their role, the do’s and don’ts. But a buddy will be able to spend much more time with them training, showing and guiding them to a more productive start. This all helps them feel like they belong.

Be inclusive

It’s important in any team that we feel inclusive, that we know our opinion matters and we know our voices will be heard. Inclusivity starts with you, how you approach your team with opportunities or complex problems even if you already have the answer there’s more than one way to skin a cat. But these interactions help not only the situation at hand but the positive psychological impact they have on your team members. Knowing they are included gives that all sense or importance, or belonging.


Remember that coming into a new team, whether it’s in the same company or not, is an extremely daunting and anxious time for anyone. Think back to different times when you have joined a new team and remember the feeling uneasy, that feeling of belonging is extremely important. To give new team members the best start, ensure they know your heritage and history, talk about what they will already be connected to even before they start. Connect them with your values, they know the way or working and what the teams passions are which ensures they are more confident about what to do in any given situation. Ensure that the language you and team use is inclusive. Imagine getting some credit as part of a group as soon as you start… instant belonging. A great way of introducing someone to the business is to team them up with a buddy. This will give a great single source of access to invaluable information, advice and team integration.


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