Build a Better Brainstorming Session: Onboarding ‘Hacks’


The first week of a new job is an incredibly valuable time, both for new employee development and company innovation. At Outcome Health, we maximize this time by having new-hires (we call our employees “Activators”) participate in cross-departmental ‘hacks.’

Starting a new job is stressful. It seems like there’s either too much or too little going on. A few manic hours of paperwork, new names and buzzwords, followed by a void– “what do I actually do here?” However, it doesn’t have to be like this. The first week of a new job can be an incredibly valuable time, both for new employee development and company innovation. At Outcome Health, we maximize this time by having new-hires (we call our employees “Activators”) participate in cross-departmental ‘hacks.’

‘Hacks’ are brainstorming sessions specifically tailored to strengthen new Activators’ problem solving skills and techniques. Team leaders from around the company take turns presenting to the incoming class, giving a brief explanation of what their department does and how their work fits into the ‘big picture’ of company operations. After this short introduction, the new-hires are clued in to a real problem the team is currently facing. They then spend twenty or thirty minutes brainstorming solutions in small groups. Afterwards, the groups come together to share and discuss their ideas.

The onboarding hacks quickly acquaint new Activators not only with the current state of the company, but also the web of connections intertwining each department and third-party entities. For example, the solution to a Sales Operations hack could impact the Implementation, Product Development, and Media teams all at once. Part of the value of ‘hacking’ is learning to recognize and weigh these effects. This way, new Activators become accustomed to thinking at a company-wide level, and gain an understanding of how teams problem-solve together to achieve common business goals.

Another benefit of the hacks, from an employee development perspective, is that they build confidence and cross-functionality. “The hacks reinforce that everyone should have big ideas, and that no one should be afraid to work outside of their role. No company conversation is outside of your depth or discipline,” said Cait Smith, Talent Coordinator at Outcome Health. If new Activators can troubleshoot a hypothetical partnership with Apple or Amazon, they should feel comfortable handling their everyday– or, better yet, speaking up in high-pressure situations. Hacks get employees used to answering difficult questions, and problem solving creatively.

Dedicating four days to a thorough on-boarding process, especially during a period of high growth, represents a significant investment on the part of Outcome Health. So, why spend the time and money? What makes brainstorming sessions worthwhile from a corporate perspective? Hacks provide an energetic, outside perspective on entrenched issues. New-hires are not confined by accumulated knowledge about the company, its limits and its history. New employees represent an opportunity to step outside of the business’ ‘tunnel vision.’ When you’ve been dealing with the same issue for weeks, months, or even years, it’s difficult to see the problem in a different light; new Activators help provide that innovation.

Even if the ideas brainstormed by the new Activators are not novel, they can serve to validate existing in-roads. Dileep Varma, Hardware Engineering Manager at Outcome Health, recalls a hack he led: “at the time, we were contemplating integrating voice-recognition technology into the Exam Room Tablets, or, even, the Waiting Room Screens. The idea came up organically during the brainstorming session and the response was immediate, and strong. People would never consider asking about specific medical conditions in a public setting; but, they weren’t against it inside of the exam room, as it allows patients to interact with our devices without having to touch them.” Dileep and his team walked away from the hack with constructive feedback, shaping the future of their work.

Hacking during start-week is especially fruitful because it actively engages an employee’s expertise. Never is your prior work experience more top-of-mind than during the first few days at a new job. Many hack leaders capitalize on this perspective, asking questions that have new Activators reflect on their past employment. How did previous employers address similar issues? What worked and what didn’t? Mining this information can provide innovative strategies that have been proven in other workplace environments.

Finally, the benefits of these brainstorming sessions are felt even after onboarding week ends, and Activators begin acclimating to their positions. “Sure, employees are more familiar with different parts of the company, but more importantly they jump into their roles thinking and behaving like an Activator. They embrace a growth mindset, take ownership of their work and contribute ideas for continued success. Already exercising these behaviors during hacks, new hires go back to their teams ready to drive impact,” said Varsha Vig, Director of People Programs at Outcome Health.

Amy Lewensky is a Growth & Development Specialist at Outcome Health who loves combining her passion for teaching and learning with career opportunities for her fellow Activators.