August 17, 2016

Get New Employees up to Speed Faster With 'User Manuals'

“How can we work better together, faster?”


The story typically goes something like this: Startupy, Inc. has a few founders, all of whom work closely 12-plus hours per day, seven days per week. In this environment, it’s no surprise that the founding team gets to know one another pretty quickly. Over the next few months, Startupy hires a few additional team members as it continues to pursue product market fit. The small team works in a shared space with adjoining desks and the learning curve of how to work with each other successfully remains relatively quick.  

Then one day, the “small” team wakes up and realizes it isn’t so small anymore. There are more people at the company. Lots more. Team members start asking, “Who’s that new person working here?” and it becomes clear that the how to work with each other successfully learning curve begins to slow.

Having Dinner for Breakfast as part of the onboarding process is a great way to indoctrinate new team members to the mission, culture, and values of an organization. It also provides the added benefit of giving the company’s founders context around what motivates the new team member, how she works best, and what communication norms she prefers. For instance, she may prefer to use her calendar to block heads-down time and if so, the founders will now know to check her calendar prior to interrupting valuable creative cycles. Or, she may prefer direct messages in Slack to face-to-face for brief Q&A items.

We all work differently. Learning how our peers operate earlier in the work relationship life cycle will, by default, shorten the learning curve of working well together and ensure that everybody gets off to the right start. Easy enough to do for a small team, but how can we facilitate this in larger organizations? User Manuals.


Basically, the user manual is a “how to work with me” guide. It outlines what you like, what you don’t like, and how you work best. Everyone at Launch Academy has their own User Manual. New team members review the team’s User Manuals in order to shorten the learning curve of working with us. They also create their own User Manual and share it with the team as a part of our Cultural Onboarding system. Think of the User Manual as a “cheat sheet” of sorts, giving team members a way to quickly and efficiently learn about each other, which in turn allows us all to work together more effectively.

User Manuals are a great way to get to know the people you work with on a daily basis, but they really prove their worth when you work on cross-departmental projects by allowing you to quickly “level-up” your ability to work with people you may not yet know very well.

Key working dynamics that User Manuals address:

  • We all have different personalities.
  • We’ve all been shaped by profoundly different life experiences.
  • We all communicate differently. But many times when we come into work, we’re expected—and in many cases forced—to interact with each other in a templated, “one-size-fits-all” way.

Ivar Kroghrud, who first conceptualized User Manuals, shares his initial inspiration for the tool:

“So I tried to think of a way to shorten the learning curve when you build new teams and bring new people on board. The worst way of doing itwhich is, regrettably, the normal wayis that people just go into a new team and start working on the task at hand, and then spend so much time battling different personalities without really being aware of it. Instead, you should stop and get to know people before you move forward.”


1. Start by considering the following set of questions

  • What are some honest, unfiltered things about you?

  • What drives you nuts?

  • What are your quirks?

  • How can people earn an extra gold star with you?

  • What qualities do you particularly value in people who work with you?

  • What are some things that people might misunderstand about you that you should clarify?

2. Next, focus on how you interact with others:

  • How do you coach people to do their best work and develop their talents?

  • What’s the best way to communicate with you?

  • What’s the best way to convince you to do something?

  • How do you like to give feedback?

  • How do you like to get feedback?

3. Share with the entire team

One thing to keep in mind: The format you compile information about yourself in your User Manual is not important. Rather, the content and its genuine nature is what makes it most useful for fellow team members.  The more you share and open up, the better those around you will.

User Manuals are a small piece of a Cultural Onboarding System but they pack a powerful punch. The Launch Academy team is more effective, efficient, and—perhaps most importantly—has more fun working together.

Evan Charles is co-founder and COO of Launch Academy. Follow him on Twitter: @evancharlz

Image via Shutterstock


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