ThoughtWorks Inc., an IT professional services firm offering application development and advanced systems integration, found significant value in its newly formed ThoughtWorks University, which includes a comprehensive new-hire onboarding program that takes place over several months in Bangalore, India.
In addition to providing the essential background and skill development for new ThoughtWorks employees, the Bangalore experience helps to foster a general sense of cohesiveness among new hires since the experience takes place outside of the typical comfort zone, yet brings people together in a collaborative learning environment. Michael Aguilar, chief people officer at ThoughtWorks and overseer of the company’s resource management for The People Organization, said that because of the project nature of most of the assignments they receive from clients, ThoughtWorks puts a lot of effort into forming the right teams to ensure proper alignment, and employee and client satisfaction. Cohesiveness is an important factor in team building.
“We try to bring together a few different threads,” Aguilar said. “On the sales front, where folks are out there drumming up new work and finding new projects, we’ll talk about what the company does, what line of business they’re in, and where in the organization are we working? Are we working with senior-level IT executives, or are we working with the IT workers who are actually getting the project done, etc.? We’ll also look at the technology involved in the work, and what role do they want us to play. Do they want us to be advisers or coaches, or do they just want us to get our heads down and get to work?”
Once an organization’s needs have been analyzed, project team member considerations come into play. “We have nearly 700 employees, and they have different particularities,” Aguilar explained. “They want to work in different kinds of technologies, take on different kinds of roles and step into new functions that they see to advance their careers. The organization pays a lot of attention to the career aspirations, interests and skill levels of all employees. It’s almost like a big matching puzzle. What is the best fit for what people want to do with what the work requires?”
ThoughtWorks University’s primary training methods center on coaching, mentoring and on-the-job training. “When we put together teams, we look for individuals who are looking for opportunities or have expressed interest in moving on to the next level of responsibility. We can put a new technical consultant with a more senior technical consultant, and besides getting the work done they will be able to work side-by-side and the new hire will get the mentoring and coaching they need to be able to take over responsibility on their own at the next assignment.”
The Bangalore program has produced a consistently high-quality new hire. “Three or more years ago, it was very much on-the-job training,” Aguilar said. “We’d get a new recruit in, look at, ‘Well, this person is pretty green. Where can we put them so they can gain coverage from the people around them who will take the time to show them the ropes?’ There were some places where the project had the right people and the right time available based on its project lifecycle. There were other times when a person was kind of dumped on a project, and they did not have all the resources available, or people were busy and distracted and did not see onboarding this person as a primary responsibility. With this (program) that first chunk is very consistent. They’re all going through it together.”
Next, ThoughtWorks would like to put together home-grown classroom training, revamping Bangalore new-hire content to suit the development needs of more seasoned employees. “The university has been really geared toward onboarding the incoming folks,” Aguilar said. “Many of the materials are geared toward treating people as though this is their first consulting job ever. We want to take stuff forward and begin continuing education. We’ve had people who’ve been here five years, and they’re brilliant and bright, and they’re looking for a little bit of help to take that next step from senior technical expert into some kind of project management or leadership-type role, which requires a different set of skills than just being a super genius. We’re looking to take components of university training that fit that, augment them and roll them out into different parts of the organization.”
This presents some challenges because established consultants often have less time to train. New hires are more available because they aren’t put on projects right away. Seasoned staff members are often in between projects and may only have a week or two available between assignments, and need learning doled out in useful chunks in several day or two-week increments for smaller class numbers. “We feel like we’ve got a really solid foundation with what we’ve done for the incoming folks,” Aguilar said. “Now we’ve got 12 years of history with folks, some of which did not get a whole lot of structured training. It would be good to start delivering things to them, as well.”
–Kellye Whitney, firstname.lastname@example.org
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