I have an intern that I'm managing who was put on a different team than me.  In my opinion, the people on the team are not friendly to my intern: they've never invited him out to lunch, the person next to him doesn't say 'hi' in the morning etc.

Its a bad situation.  My intern complains that he doesn't have enough contact with other individuals, while the team says he's shy and doesn't ask for help enough.

In particular, there was an incident where I went on vacation for 3 days after teaching him a new skill.  I asked my step-boss to stop by his desk the next day and ask if he needed any help.  Instead, my step-boss sent an email.

IMO, these are two very different things.  Its a miserable work environment where you can go a day without anyone from your team saying 'hi' to you.  And I'm much more likely to believe an offer to help is genuine which comes in person instead of from email.

But my step-boss says stopping by and sending an email is the same thing.  Who is right? Is it worth arguing with him if I'm right?  

Moreover, what is my best course of action.  I think I should just give up on getting the other team to include my intern, and instead encourage my intern to be friendly to them.

mickmgrtools's picture

Hi YGreif,

Do you know anyone on the team that the Intern is with now?  If so, ask them to help you out and look after him.  If not, get to know someone on that team - perhaps take them all out to lunch with the Intern, or for after work drinks or some other culturally appropriate informal setting like bowling or go-karts.

With more details of the setting, like what work you are doing, relationship with HR and the intern process in your company, physical layouts of the offices, etc., someone might be able to offer more specific advice.

This is another example of what the MT gurus keep repeating to us, relationships matter.

Best of luck, hope this provided some help.


brian_t_watkins's picture
Training Badge

One thing that MT clearly teaches is that email is not the same as a personal visit, particularly when forming and building relationships. After all, which means more - a coworker who stops by your office, smiles, shakes your hand and says Happy Holidays or one who sends an email with a smiley face emoticon.

You can't control the others, although if they are on your team you might offer feedback on building the relationship with the intern. However, I would coach the intern on being the one to step out and form the relationships. He/She can stop by and say Hi and find ways to build relationships just as the rest of the team can.


mattpalmer's picture

If there's one skill that I wish I had started to work on much, much earlier in my life, it would be the ability to start a conversation with a random stranger.  I'd encourage your intern to work on that skill now.  Yes, your co-workers sound like they're not exactly the most personable people, and being a bit duplicitous by not initiating conversations and then claiming it is all the intern's fault.  However, you and your intern need to embrace reality and accept that Mohammed's going to have to go to the mountain.  This isn't the last time your intern is going to be in this sort of situation, so he may as well start learning how to take the initiative now.

I recently listened to the cast on "How to Engage Your Seatmate", about having a quick conversation with the person sitting next to you on a plane, train, bus, or whatever.  It was mind-blowingly good.  I'd start with that, and then listen to the other casts cited in that one, such as "How to Have a Conversation" and "How to Finish a Conversation".  Then get your intern to, in effect, *plan* these conversations up-front (it sounds stupid, but if it works, then it ain't stupid) and even rehearse them with you.

From there, it's just a matter of giving your intern the goal of having ice-breaker conversations with a set number of co-workers each day/week/whatever interval you have one-on-ones (you *are* having one-on-ones, aren't you?)

Then work on the saying "hi" each day.  Where's the rule that says that your intern can't be the one to initiate that conversation?  I made a promise to myself that I'd greet each one of my team members as they came in each morning (I'm an early starter, all of my team are late starters).  It's not the office culture, but I decided I wanted to change it, so I did.  A few team members are still gruff and grumpy (somewhere close to 6 months after I started doing it), but I've noticed a certain amount of "thawing" in their first-thing-in-the-morning attitudes, and my boss noticed that I was doing it and even commented positively about it in my annual review.

Get your intern to say "Good morning!" in a light, cheery voice to the person who sits next to them each day.  If it's Monday, have him add "how was your weekend?".  On Friday, have your intern ask sometime during the afternoon, "So, have you got any plans for the weekend?"

To some people, all this sort of thing comes naturally.  To anyone who doesn't have high I/S tendencies, it is completely foreign.  (I score a '1' in both I and S, so I know of what I speak -- it ain't easy).  Just because it is hard and unnatural, though, doesn't mean it isn't important.  These are *fundamental* human interaction skills, and your intern will be miles ahead if he learns both the form *and* the importance of these skills now, so he can start practicing.  That means that in a decade's time, he'll be an absolute natural, and won't have to learn them cold like I'm having to.

I'm willing to state that of everything that your intern might learn during his stint with your company, the ability to hold a basic conversation and be pleasant to *anyone* is almost guaranteed to be the most useful thing for the success of his career, in the long term.  You're doing him a grave disservice if you don't do everything you reasonably can to build his ability to be social with others.