How To Build A Team And Not A Random Group Of People

Building a strong team to get things done is one of the key responsibilities of every manager. And curiously enough, very few are actually doing it. I encourage you to look around, and even consider how you build your teams, and chances are that you focus on hiring bunch of people who will work together as a group, but not a team. Team, in my definition, is a several people who work together for common goal, who have the same core values, rely on each other and complement each other strengths. The last aspect is the most often overlooked.

Imagine you are setting up a brand new office. You have several key functions to hire. You need an HR person, you need an accountant, an office admin, you need a recruiter, you need someone to handle contracts, you need someone to maintain facilities, sit at reception, interact with external world of vendors and suppliers, etc.

How do you build this team? Depends on how your organization works, chances are that each department will want to have a representative they will hire who will be expert at her specific function. This sounds great. Each department brings on board the best expert they can find. You hire excellent accountant, great recruiter, perfect office admin, the best HR person around… and things are constantly broken.

What happened? You didn’t take into account whether these rock stars would work together and more importantly you have no redundancy build in. If your accountant goes on vacations any finance related topics are put on hold, if your recruiter gets sick you stop hiring people. So how you deal with this? By following couple of basic rules in the recruitment process when building the team:

  • Hire for strengths
  • Hire for gaps
  • Hire for cultural fit
  • Hire the right, not the best, person
  • Hire by committee

Hire for strengths

There are different ways how to interview and hire. One approach is to look for weaknesses and consistently weed out anyone who shows weakness in any of the traits and skills required for the job. This sounds reasonable until you realize that you focus on getting a mediocre person who is “sort of ok” in all the aspects but may not have any discernible strength. He will do the job somehow but won’t bring anything that would get the team to the next level.

Another approach is to hire for strengths. Identify couple (not many) of critical skills where you really need a rock star and hire for these and be willing to overlook some of the weaknesses. As long as they are not critical to the success of the team, or as long as the rest of the team can compensate. For example, you may decide that the most important skill you are looking for in a recruiter is ability to dig out the rare talent and obscure technologies your team requires. So that is where you focus and the fact that he may not be able to close the candidate won’t bother you as you will handle it by another person on the team who is a great salesman.

Hire for gaps

With the approach described above you will hire a great talented person who may have some weaknesses. That means you need to compensate by someone else. Your next hire needs to fill the skill gap caused by overlooking weaknesses of other people on the team. And not only you need to hire for gaps, you need to ensure you build in some redundancy and resistance into do team. In our case with hiring a stellar recruiter, or rather a sourcer and data wizard who knows the job market inside and out, we know that another person on the team needs to be strong at giving out offer and selling the position to the candidate so he joins the team. This might be the manager, but could easily be the HR person or whoever else on the team with the right personality and drive.

And not just this, each person should have a primary strength and a secondary utilization. What happens if your recruiter goes on vacations? You need to keep the ball rolling. You may not have another super star but there needs to be someone competent enough on the team to pick up the ball and keep running. What about having it a part of the office admin job to keep up to date with the job market and be able to step in every now and then to help? If you cover this way every single function and skill in your group you are in a great shape and you build pretty robust team.

Hire for cultural fit

Of course, with this approach you are not hiring silos. You are hiring people who by definition will have to rely on each other a lot. And that means the right “chemistry”, the same core values and view of the world needs to be there. Each individual needs to understand what her strengths and weaknesses are and be comfortable reaching out to the rest of the team for help when needed.

It is easier to say this than to do it. In fact, for many jobs you will keep refusing really great and qualified people only because they don’t fit the team. It is very difficult to do as the pressure of the business is to hire as soon as possible but it is worth the wait. The cost of hiring wrong cultural fit is huge. Even a single person who won’t fit the team will spoil the atmosphere, change the dynamics in a negative way and ultimately lead to suboptimal performance.

Hire the right, not the best, person

There is a strong tendency to fall in love with people similar to us, there is a strong desire to hire the best of the best, and there is a big danger of the Halo effect (to make decisions based on first impression). Just imagine you are building a small start-up and looking for a team lead. Two people show on the interview. One is a very hands-on guy who spent couple of years at another start-up and let a team of three people and a more senior guy who came from a bigger company where he led hundreds of people.

Who do you hire? I’m not providing the answer here, since it really depends on what you need. However, it is important to make a conscious decision on what type of person you want to hire. Who do you need today? Who will you need in a year time? Do you need to hire for your today’s need? Or are you at stage that you just started a hyper growth and you need to scale, thus to hire someone for tomorrow who will scale? That is what I mean by hiring the right person for your particular circumstances and not the best person on the market who may not fit your actual needs regardless how good she is.

Hire by committee

The most important aspect of this to work is not to make any decision unilaterally. You are a manager so you are probably tempted to make the final decision whether to hire or not to hire but I would urge you not to succumb to this temptation. In fact, I would even ask you to do the complete opposite and let the team decide whether they want to hire the candidate or not. Two rules to follow here.

First, anyone should have a right to veto. If someone on the team is strongly against the candidate it means automatically no hire, regardless whether you or the rest of the team liked the person.

And second, there should be at least one person on the team who is really enthusiastic about the candidate. If everyone says “eh, he is sort of ok,” it means yet again no hire decision since clearly the candidate doesn’t bring anything to get the team to the next level. Another way how to judge whether someone will bring something new to the team is to ask the current team members if they can name one skill or characteristics in which the candidate is better than they are. Assuming you don’t have defunct team who is able to do a good retrospective, they should be able to name a few.

 

How do you ensure you build a cohesive team that works well together? How do you grow your people? Do you focus on their weaknesses trying or rather substitute a weakness in one person by strength provided by someone else?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

2 thoughts on “How To Build A Team And Not A Random Group Of People

  1. Pingback: How To Hire A Strong Software Development Team | The Geeky Leader

  2. Pingback: 12 Principles Of Agile For HR Professionals | The Geeky Leader

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