How To Hire A Winning Team

Lean and mean. That’s how you could describe a winning team that is passionate about the work and has the skills and attitude to get things done. Specifically in software development you are looking at a team that will be able to build a product that is easy to maintain, easy to support, easy to install, easy to use, and brings an obvious value to the customers so they have no choice but to fall in love with it. You want a team that has good technical insights but who won’t get distracted by doing something “cool” on the expense of building product that brings value to customers.

It all starts with recruitment

I have talked already about why attitude is important in Effort And Attitude Beats Talent And Knowledge and I talked about the importance of everyone in the team putting their share of effort in finding the right candidates Everyone Is A Recruiter. I haven’t spent much time yet on how the decision to hire someone should be made.

Interviewing as a critical skill

Interviewing can be sometimes seen as a necessary evil. In some organizations it is seen as a distraction from the core business, hiring managers are too busy to participate or work with the recruiter in timely manner, and sometimes it is being outsourced to HR team completely.

That is a wrong approach. If you want to build great products you need great people. If you want to have great people you need to get them somewhere and ensure that they really are great. Why would anyone want to let others make such important decision for him? Interviewing is simply the most critical task you can do and the most valuable skill you can develop. And it doesn’t really matter if you are a manager or an individual contributor. Being able to find the right members of your team will drive your long-term success and job satisfaction. The priorities we live by in my teams were always very clear: first comes the customer, then the candidate, then the rest of my job.

Over my career I have interviewed hundreds of people for positions from a developer or tester, across designers, project managers or directors. Most of them were engineering types but I always gladly stepped in when asked to interview people and give my opinion even on roles in other departments such as technical support, human resources, finance, or sales. Making sure that we get the right people to the company, regardless whether they report to me or not, is so important that I will always find the time. And as a side effect being constantly involved helps me to exercise my interviewing muscle and helps me understand how rest of the company works.

Don’t hire copies

Your recruitment process and hiring decisions should be as unbiased as possible. You shouldn’t discriminate against any age, race, gender, religion, and other attributes not related directly to the job requirements. It is not just a legal requirements in many countries but also a good business practice and simply the right thing to do. Having a good set of forms to fill to assess all candidates against the same criteria may sound like “big company thinking” but it will pay off regardless of the business side. The overhead is minimal and it ensures consistency, especially when you have multiple people as part of the interview team and you rotate them often. It will also push everyone to take the interviews seriously, make notes and hire based on data rather than feelings.

Having couple of interview rounds with different people is a must. Having the candidate do some practical tests to assess her cognitive abilities and the hard skills needed for the job is always a good idea. It might be also a good idea to have a clear guidelines on what does it take to be successful on your team and have a specific questions or tests to focus on core values and attitudes.

I was often part of discussions within the panel of interviewers that was very passionate and where “the company fit” was a big issue. It is one of the critical component when evaluating the candidate. It is not just about the hard skills that are usually easy to measure but also about whether this great guy is actually a great fit for your team. At the other hand there is always a danger that you will hire someone who looks like your copy. For this reason you should ensure that during the interview process the candidate speaks with people who have different background, different skills and styles of work. Then you will make sure that you hire team that is diverse enough to expand their view and don’t get stuck in some narrow thinking.

What I like to do every now and then is to look at the qualities of the team already on board and try to find what skills and more importantly what characters are missing. I’m a big believer in well balanced teams and that means you need to have good coverage and redundancy in all the skills and styles of work. For example, if you have a management team where everyone is driven by numbers and hard facts it may be a good idea to put in someone who will take care of the more human side of the discussion. If you have a team where everyone is always trying to get consensus and it slows down business just put in someone who is not afraid to pound your fist on the table and decide. Yes, it will most likely disturb the status quo, but honestly, that’s what you need when you want to build great team. Great teams are made of great people with strong opinions and a character.

It is a numbers game but emotions are important

That being said, you are not a robot and you don’t want to make a decision only based on some scores, formulas and automated systems. The human factor in the final decision really is a key. You need to ensure you have the right people as part of the interview process. People, who are passionate about interviewing and who love the search for the next team mate. People, who understand that on a small team everybody counts and must contribute or the team dies and who will ensure that they are hiring only the best. People, who are willing to hire others who are better than the current team. I always like to ask myself after the interview “is there something I could actually learn from this candidate?” If I cannot find anything I’m really hesitant to raise my hand and vote for the person.

So let’s say you had five people interviewing a particular candidate. They all shared their notes, you have all the data, and the time for a decision has come. I would suggest you ask each of the interviewers to rate the candidate on a scale one to four:

  1. I love this guy and will fight for him
  2. He is ok and I will not stand in the way
  3. I don’t think so, you better have a really good reason why to hire him
  4. Over my dead body

There needs to be at least one person who strongly believes in the candidate. If no one is willing to put their reputation at stake you don’t want to hire the person. If all people say 2) or 3) then you would hire a sort of ok guy who would do sort of ok job but who would not help to build a top notch team and create amazing products. And if someone says 4) then it is an end of game for that particular candidate. You don’t want to bring to the organization someone who will have internal enemies from day one.

So next time you start building a new team think twice who will do the interviewing and make sure you dedicate enough of your time to such an important task.


Is the hiring process and interviewing important in your company? How much attention it gets? Do you have some tips and tricks on how to make the right decisions about candidates?

Photo: © dbphotos / Dollar Photo Club

Categories: Recruitment

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