Hiring a team player

Talent and skill are essential, but keep a close eye on cultural fit if you want to avoid the mistake of bringing the wrong person on board.

I was recently talking with a client who was agitated that she had just made a bad hire. It wasn’t that this new person was inexperienced or unskilled; he was smart and capable, like he’d been in the interview. But he was quickly proving to be a lousy teammate – ego-driven, secretive, selfish, and unproductively competitive.

Great teams are built intentionally. People often think that the best teams come together by some combination of good luck and good timing, but the truth is a much more deliberate story. We studied thousands of teams in dozens of industries and found that the highest performing teams always had similar traits and characteristics. The individuals on these teams chose to be great team players.

When compared to the least functional teams, the best teams were:

  • 47 times more likely to work hard to build and maintain trust
  • 50 times more likely to openly discuss conflict when it arose
  • 55 times more likely to have very well-defined goals for the team
  • 106 times more likely to give each other tough feedback

We call the best teams “Loyalist Teams” because every member is loyal to one another, the team goals, and the organizational goals. Individuals work to ensure each other’s success as much as they work to ensure their own. High-performance teams create operating norms that explain how members of the team will treat each other. And team members hold each other accountable to maintain those norms.

When it comes to adding a new person to the crew, these teams make decisions just as deliberately. Like all teams, they hire for experience and skill but they also pay the same attention to cultural fit, saving the pain that comes down the road when the wrong candidate comes on board. Here are a few tips for ensuring your new hire is the right fit for your Loyalist Team:

  • Include team members in the interview process. To ensure a great fit, invite your team into the selection process. Get clear ahead of time on what “right fit” means and give your team accountability for deciding who is the best fit for your team’s chemistry.
  • Share the team’s operating norms. Setting expectations for team behaviors before a candidate is hired gives them a chance to opt out. There’s no harm in them saying, “Thanks for the interview but this team is not for me.” It’s better to know this before they land on your team.
  • Probe for a Loyalist Team mindset. Asking open-ended questions can get at a candidate’s beliefs about teams. For example: “Tell me about a time a teammate let you down and how you handled it?” Or, “Talk about your best and worst team experiences.” Or, “Share a time when you were a part of a team that was struggling to perform. What role did you play and how did you handle it?”
  • Listen for “I” versus “we.” One clue about a candidate’s mindset will come through in how they talk about their team experiences. All “I” responses may be a red flag.
  • Don’t settle. Trauma for both the team and the new-hire can be avoided by taking the time to get the best person on board. The odds of remediating a wrong-fit candidate are low. At best, you may spend a lot of time integrating a skeptical new hire with your Loyalist Team practices.

All team members are responsible for the team culture so it’s important to find the right person and, once they’re on board, to help them adjust and learn the rules of the road. Every aspect of building and maintaining a great team has to be done thoughtfully and with great intention. Same for hiring. And if it’s done right, there are no surprises and the new lineup will be able to continue creating the same extraordinary results as the original lineup.

Rebecca Teasdale is a partner at The Trispective Group and the co-author with Audrey Epstein, Linda Adams and Abby Curnow-Chavez of The Loyalist Team: How Trust, Candor, and Authenticity Create Great Organizations. For more information, please visit, trispectivegroup.com.

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Posted in Archives, Leadership, Personnel | January 15th, 2018 by