This is the time you’ve been working towards! After weeks of preparation, days of interviews, and countless hours talking about your team, you’re finally ready to welcome your new members. The first week or so after your acceptances is a vital time to consolidate good feeling and build camaraderie amongst your newcomers. Having an initiation process accomplishes two important goals:
Your new members will be excited about being accepted into your organization. They will be willing to invest a large amount of time and energy at the onset to prove their dedication. This gives you a unique opportunity to impart information and inspiration to a willing and captive audience. After the preliminary excitement begins to fade, you’ll find it increasingly difficult to have time for everyone to assemble and participate. So, don’t squander this time!
There will be some members of your organization who have been accepted into multiple groups that have initiation processes. If you do not have a mandatory process, these members will inevitably go to the other group’s initiation and will likely be swayed due to the sheer amount of time initiation often takes. You don’t want to lose these members. Running an exciting and involved initiation will make it more likely that those members will choose your organization over another.
Think about the goals of your initiation. In my mind, there are three goals to be accomplished:
Build a sense of camaraderie amongst your newcomers. They should feel like they are part of a class.
Explain the rules and responsibilities of the team.
Make the experience unforgettable.
Next, the type of initiation you put into place will determine the materials you need for them. Retreats in the woods, trips to bowling or karaoke, and other activities at established venues will require you to leverage your associated budgeting and logistics abilities. However, if you’ve ever been to summer camp, you’ll know that some of the best activities do not require a large expenditure of money at all. For activities that promote team-building and increased levels of interpersonal trust, you’ll need to be creative and to have an initiation leader who is charismatic and inclusive.
Follow good event planning practices. Any locations that you need people to show up at should be secured and communicated ahead of time. There should be a sign on the door to indicate to students that they have arrived at the correct room. If you’re planning on moving students from one place to another, your travel logistics need to be in order. Additionally, if you have a schedule of events for your initiation, these should be printed and given to your new members. The schedule should have a location and time at least. If it wouldn’t hurt the surprise of the event, a short description for each activity is also a nice touch.
Now, I’m going to introduce you to my favored approach to initiation. I call it the camp counselor approach. The camp counselor approach uses a broad array of team building exercises to incrementally increase members’ investment to accomplish more difficult tasks. In essence, you’re building trust in an accelerated manner that would take much longer under normal circumstances. The more your teammates trust each other, the more likely they’ll be willing to work together and express vulnerability. Think of each person as a piece of a puzzle that is able to hide his or her crevices. If no one is willing to reveal their crevice, then the puzzle cannot be complete. But if people are willing to trust others and show off their strengths and weaknesses then the actual piece comes to light and you can build the entire puzzle. Therefore, your exercises need to start with activities that require low levels of trust and build up to activities that require high levels of trust. Do not jump the gun! Patience is the call of the day. If you advance too quickly, you’ll likely make some members uncomfortable which in turn will cause the group to fail thus decreasing the overall level of trust. However, don’t be afraid to push the envelope either. Move too slowly, and your members will get bored and lose investment in the process.