I was a talent scout for BanklessDAO for a few months this fall. For about 10 hours each week, I met new members interested in writing and editing and built an onboarding process for my group. Here's what I observed:
Retention rate of people lasting more than a couple weeks was probably around 5%. On top of low retention rates, I saw a lot of fear and uncertainty in new members. People couldn't find the information they needed, and it was often outdated when they did. Moving with confidence through the DAO was something only seasoned DAO members could do—new members were timid and uncertain.
In this article, I'll be exploring a method in which new DAO contributors can exit an onboarding flow with confidence and knowledge—two precious qualities in the DAO space. DAOs can provide this by focusing on transparency in their onboarding—showing the new members all sides of the organization before they dive in.
I believe DAOs need a transparent, opt-in onboarding system in which contributors can learn about and have introductory experiences in three important categories: purpose, governance, and social. They can do this through a "three sieve method."
DAOs can provide opt-in onboarding that saves time for both the DAO (by new contributors getting the info they need up front, so they can start contributing right away) and the new contributors (so they don't have to info-hunt or get marooned in confusion). This could be done through three "sieves," or filters in which there are two options: self-select in to keep going, or self-select out to remove yourself from the DAO. The key is self-selection: as a new contributor, you have the power of both knowledge and choice. No one is kicking you out or telling you if you're a "fit" through this three sieve process. Instead, you're testing the DAO and making your own informed choice.
By the time a contributor has moved through each sieve, they enter the DAO confident and knowledgeable. On the other end, the DAO receives contributors who truly want to be in the DAO and know the basics of how to find their way within their new environment.
- New contributors enter the flow.
- The onboarding team greets the new contributors and explains the process they are about to embark on. The onboarding team organizes and facilitates the entire three sieve process—they are a core team within the DAO.
- Sieve 1: Education and discussion on purpose, principles, values, mission, and basic assumptions. This is when contributors learn why the work is done. The onboarding team will meet with the new contributors to share the DAO's deeper purpose, and discussion will ensue (afterall, the purpose is never set-in-stone for eternity—it evolves with the DAO). Upon learning about the high-level purpose of the DAO, contributors enter the first sieve: to continue, or to exit? Contributors who want to stay—likely those who find the purpose compelling—will move to the next sieve.
- Sieve 2: Education and discussion on the DAO's operating system, governance processes, how contributors work together, and management practices (whether self-managing or a form of traditional hierarchy). This is when contributors learn how the work is done. Key governance processes and operating system basics are shared and discussed in this step. Dicussion, again, is key: nothing is immutable in the human world. Time for the next sieve: new contributors can self-select out of this step and head for another DAO if they don't think the way the DAO works and governs is a good fit.
- Sieve 3: Team and community of practice onboarding. This is when contributors learn who does the work and how the work in teams is done on a day-to-day basis. New contributors pick the team/community they would likely join or are interested in joining—a writer might join a writers community of practice or a newletter team. Understanding the team's individual purpose and how it relates to the DAO's larger purpose is a key component of this step. New contributors will be greeted by the team's talent scout and get a better understanding of what day-to-day life is like in that team/community. This is the last step in which contributors can self-select out.
- Three self-select "in"s mean the contributor is bound for the DAO. New contributors arrive in the DAO with the knowledge and experience in these three areas, which I will expand on at the end:
The Onboarding Team would shepherd new contributors throughout this process and answer questions. They would also facilitate education and assist the team/community's talent scout in providing internal team onboarding. No one "kicks out" anyone during this process—this is just a transparent way for new contributors to understand and discuss a few key aspects of the DAO and get the tools they need to be successful (or at least know where to find those tools) before becoming a full member.
Sieve 1: Share the "why" of DAO work and emphasize purpose fit over culture fit
In the first sieve, we ensure contributors understand the DAO's purpose and vision and want to work within the bounds of the purpose.
Each DAO must have a purpose, and principles stemming from it, that serves as the glue of the decentralized organization. A purpose sieve would ensure that new contributors understand basic principles and purpose of the DAO. This also serves as a unification mechanism. If the community is too fractured in its beliefs, it will be fractured in everything. From day zero, a common understanding of what those principles and values are (and an understanding that they will evolve over time and are always under discussion) is an essential onboarding practice.
To be clear, this purpose sieve isn't about finding "culture fit." This is the step where contributors learn about the DAO's raison d'être and can self-select if it's a vision they want to work with.
Teal organizations (flat, self-managing, decentralized, transparent, purpose-centered) take the time to train their new hires in the principles, values, and assumptions of the organization. Purpose fit is everything because there's no manager spoon-feeding you directions. “Most Teal organizations spend a lot of time during the recruitment process informing candidates about the values of the organization to determine whether there is a good culture fit,” according to the Reinventing Organizations Wiki. In a DAO, I believe "purpose fit" is more important than "culture fit." If you align with the purpose, then you align with the most important aspect of the DAO. It's important to have a variety of viewpoints within the DAO, but all those viewpoints should loosely align to the DAO's purpose.
Tactics to try:
- A member of the onboarding team can articulate the organization’s basic beliefs and values to the new contributors. The new contributors can ask questions and pose challenges, spurring a healthy dialogue to explore these beliefs and ideas.
- The onboarders can ask the new contributors about their goals in the organizations and what part of the purpose resonates with them. More discussion follows.
- The onboarder can share their own personal story of how the DAO's purpose and principles resonates with them, giving a more human element to the process.
- The new contributors can discuss the DAO's basic assumptions about humans, and share examples and ideas about why that is.
Sieve 2: Share the "how" of DAO work and daily life
In the second sieve, we ensure contributors know what they're getting into in terms of daily working practices, governance responsibilities, operating system, and what their day-to-day life will look like.
Teal Organizations spend more time onboarding than other types of organizations because they need to train the new contributor on the work environment rather than just the work itself. According to the Reinventing Organizations Wiki, “At the heart of the onboarding process is some form of training that helps colleagues understand and navigate the new environment they joined.” Navigation is key. You don't need a map to show you exactly where to go, but you do need the tools to show you how to get around.
The "how" of daily work includes topics such as meeting purpose and practice, governance processes, tools and resources (Discord, Notion, Collab.land), and the operating system of the entire organization. Learning and discussing these topics early on gives contributors the resources they need to understand and navigate the DAO confidently. This is true transparency.
I like the idea of “wayfinding” that Rafael posed in “How to DAO 201: Onboarding as Wayfinding,” He wrote, “Instead of just focusing on sharing knowledge and instructions, we include new concepts related to navigation, activation, and learning.” In other words, it’s essential to provide opportunities to learn how to navigate the DAO, rather than simple instructions. The second sieve is, at its core, wayfinding within the operating system.
Tactics to try:
- The new contributor can have active sessions with the onboarding team on how the DAO manages daily work. Is it totally self-managing, or some form of hierarchy? What is forum for, and how do you use it? How do you give and recieve feedback? What do you do if your role becomes obsolete and you need to find a new one? How are decisions made?
- How to use the DAO's tools, such as Discord/Slack and the knowledge base such as Notion/Drive. Walk through how contributors can get permissions to anything that's gated.
- If the DAO is using a self-managing system (no hierarchy or managers), resources for new contributors to learn self-management can be made public, even free (DAO purchases of e-books and audio books for contributors is one possibility).
- A series of educational working sessions for new members on important topics that wouldn’t be taught in a traditional corporate setting but are essential to success in DAOs and non-hierarchical organizations. (Some ideas: how to build a role that’s right for you, how to format a budget proposal, how to give and receive feedback, how to ask for help, how to take time off, how to find your greater purpose within and outside of the organization.)
Sieve 3: The "who" of DAO work, as well as team "why"s and "how"s
In the third sieve, the contributor meets the team/community they might work with and learns that group's unique purpose.
This is when the team meets the new contributor and welcomes them into their world. By the time the new contributor reaches this sieve, they understand the greater purpose and working habits of the DAO itself. Now, they learn the intimate details of how the team works, as well as the gaps the new contributor could fill if they choose to join the team. They also get key social connections in this step, because they'll interact with people besides other new contributors or the onboarding team. This is the most hands-on part of the onboarding process.
The team/community should have an internal onboarder (talent scout) who guides the new contributor through the team's own onboarding process. This step is the warmest, and brings the most "I could really see myself working here" vibes to the new contributor. This is like an office tour on steroids and involves the most wayfinding. Meeting people, learning about roles, reading governance documents, sitting in on meetings, and gaining access to text channels and groupchats are all important parts of this step. The talent scout or internal onboarding team will check-in with the new contributor and ensure they're getting the tools they need to find their way and not just a firehose of information.
This sieve is not about a contributor finding an exact role they want to fill (although that could happen!). This is about soul-to-soul connection with your potential team. Sharon Bal wrote for The Ready in “Hiring Humans, Not Resources” that it's most important to “find people who can contribute to the organization in dynamic and unforeseen ways. Screen for purpose alignment and values fit, the enduring elements of the organization. . . No matter a candidate’s skills, are they willing and able to contribute them to the organization in new and unfamiliar contexts?” Purpose fit and soul fit, not culture fit or role fit.
Tactics to try:
- The onboardee receives a mentor to guide them and help them learn to navigate the DAO. The relationship continues well past the "new member" stage and can be a rich, rewarding relationship in the DAO.
- The onboardee enters the team with a cohort of fellow onboardees, so they can get to know each other within the team.
- The onboardee chooses a role they're interested in learning about and shadows the role-holder.
- The onboardee sits in on meetings, reads channels, and has access to workflows and team documents.
- The onboardee pitches role ideas or ways they'd like to work in the team to help them achieve their purpose.
The new contributor enters the DAO with a deep understanding of the organization they're joining
Sharing knowledge in a decentralized organization is tough. This method ensures contributors get the key information and experiences they need up front so they can decide if the DAO is right for them.
The contributor is now equipped with knowledge and has had important introductory experiences in these three categories:
- Social connections within the DAO and the team/community they're joining
- Social connections with other new contributors going through the same process
- Who to ask for help when needed
- Possible mentor
- Social norms, like channel and meeting etiquette
- How the DAO governs (from voting to forum posts to advice and consensus)
- How the DAO works (from cross-team collaborations to how pay is set)
- How the team governs (smaller-scale voting and decision-making)
- How the team works (feedback, meeting rhythms, routines and habits)
- How the tools work (Discord/Slack, documentation on Notion or Drive, tipping practices in-server)
- The DAO's mission, purpose, and basic assumptions of people and processes
- The team's mission and purpose within the greater DAO
- Ideas and inspiration for how the new contributor can go on a journey of finding their own purpose and mission, both inside and outside the DAO
This three sieve method is a very basic template The full methods and practices for executing it would be defined by the DAO and the team itself. Working from a basic template of a transparent, opt-in onboarding process, contributors can gather the knowledge and experiences they need to enter the DAO not with fear and ignorance, but with confidence and knowledge.