The Microsoft 2022 Work Trend Index Annual Report finds that strong workplace relationships significantly impact employee well-being. 76% of respondents with thriving relationships feel great overall well-being, 50% feel they are more productive than a year ago, and 61% intend to stay with the employer for one more year. In contrast, only 57% of respondents with struggling relationships feel good overall well-being, 36% feel more productive than a year ago, and 39% plan to stay with the company for another year.
In my previous article, I discussed the fact that people tend to stick with teams rather than companies. This is important because it impacts our work experience. Employees often stay with the organization not because of the brand or money but because of their teammates.
Take the team with you
Why not try transferring the mentality of team stickiness into the recruitment process itself? It can be uncomfortable and a bit tricky, but it may also have huge benefits.
In fact, some companies, like Stripe, were already playing with the idea by introducing Bring Your Own Team initiative in 2016. In Stripe’s case, they decided to stop the initiative after a year as they didn’t really hire any teams as a result of the effort though they still hire people who come together, just not through a dedicated process.
And yet, it seems there is an emerging trend in the technology sector when people are asking more and more whether they could join their future employers as a team. “I would love to join, but can I bring two or three other people? We prefer to join as a team.” The recruiters and hiring managers are lost for words as they are unprepared for this question and often have doubts. But it is not such a huge mental jump.
Referrals – You may not realize it, but you are hiring micro teams already. What happens when you hire someone? The first thing you ask them is to refer friends and colleagues who would be a good fit for the company. So it can easily happen that within a year, the team is with you anyway.
Acqui-hires – Buying a small company, not for the product but for the people, happens every now and then, especially in places with a rich start-up scene. Usually, it is less than twenty people who have a track record of working well together and delivering great results.
Advantages of hiring micro teams
When I talk about micro teams, I mean somewhere between two to five people who work well together. What are the pros of giving offers to the whole team?
Faster hiring – You get more employees simultaneously, and more importantly, you tap those passive candidates who probably wouldn’t talk to you if they couldn’t bring their teammates.
Diversity – Unless the team has been together from high school and therefore they are copies of each other, you will talk to candidates that wouldn’t really fit your standard filters due to non-standard background, but who are great team members and enhance the team as a whole.
Integration – The integration into the company can be faster due to several people building contacts and then helping each other.
Complementary skills – The team brings complementary skills. Especially in software development, this might be a huge advantage.
Collaboration – You get a team that works well together. It is a situation when the team is better than the sum of its individual parts. People in the team are used to each other, communicate well, and are willing to help each other. Dependability is critical for high-performing teams. Once people feel comfortable with each other, they can fully focus on getting things done.
Productivity – Because they are used to each other, they are comfortable collaborating with each other and can get productive faster.
Innovation – If people come up as a team, they are more likely to speak up and suggest new ways of thinking and doing things. If someone comes as a single person, they are more likely to conform.
Superstars – Great performers who are surrounded by their original team are more likely to retain their high performance. This may not necessarily be the case if you uproot a single high performer from their previous company and stick them into a new environment. Researchers proved that stardom is not transferable. After a star moves to a new environment, their performance often plunges. Performance is often company-specific. No one is an island, and even the stars often depend on the work of the people around them. So when they move, they are unable to repeat their success. Allowing them to bring their team can therefore have huge benefits.
Belonging – You remove concerns about belonging. When people join new companies, especially when working remotely, it takes time to feel they belong. It takes time to build relationships and make friends, and until you do that, you don’t feel comfortable in your new company. When you join as a team, you’ve got psychological safety from day one. You may not feel like part of the company culture yet, but you are part of a team.
Concerns when hiring micro teams
But as with everything in life, it is not all roses. There are some disadvantages and pitfalls you need to watch for and be comfortable with.
When they come as a team, they may leave as a team – This is often the biggest concern. If we hire them as a team, will they then leave as a team, thus creating a potential issue for the business? Yes, that can happen. But to be fair, that can happen with any team that gets disengaged and demotivated. You need to make sure to integrate the team well into the organization.
Our recruitment process is not built for hiring teams – Being proactive, fast, and nimble is key to being successful in this approach. You need to communicate with the team frequently so that they know what you are asking of them is outside of the usual company processes.
What if we have doubts about one person from the team? – The hiring team may like most candidates but have doubts about one. Be flexible, but don’t give offers to people who would bring no value. Get comfortable relying on the team leader for insights as you can’t judge people based on a one-hour interview as well as someone who worked with them for years can.
Would they accept the company culture or stay isolated as a team? – If you hire them and then ignore their contributions, they may feel resentment and eventually leave. Make sure to integrate them into the team, so they have more opportunities to contribute and build social ties with other people.
What happens if someone doesn’t perform? – If someone on the team does not perform after being hired, terminating their employment may demotivate the team. In extreme cases, they may decide to leave as a team too. However, you are hiring adults, and if they see that you are fair and manage the situation well and with respect, it is unlikely that this will happen.
Would I lose some great candidates because of that? – If you give offers to the team and the majority decides not to accept, there is a chance that the peer pressure will work its magic, and your offer will also be rejected by those who would otherwise accept if they interviewed on their own. This certainly is a risk, but chances are you wouldn’t be able to drag these to the interviews in the first place, so in reality, you probably won’t be worse off.
What would be the candidate’s experience? – Adel Smee wrote a great blog post where she described the experience of trying to get a job as a team of eight full-stack developers, interviewing with two different companies. Even though it feels good to do this as part of a team, it has some notable pitfalls. When you interview as part of a group, you are losing lots of privacy. Everyone knows whether the other people on the team got job offers or not. It may also feel unfair as the company doesn’t get to know all the team members well during the interview process and may therefore reject someone who the team knows brings a lot of value. As a hiring manager, you should be cognizant of these dynamics and try your best to create a psychologically safe environment during the whole process.
How do you approach hiring micro teams?
- Don’t be afraid of advertising that you are hiring micro teams, as most candidates probably don’t even think this could be an option. You may get people who otherwise stick with their current company simply because they like working with the current team.
- Build the referral program into the hiring process. When talking to candidates, especially the passive ones, ask them if they have anyone else they would like to take with them.
- Make sure it is clear to each person on the team what role would they fit at the company. This may require being flexible in your role definitions and tweaking the open positions so they fit the skillset of the team.
- If they have a leader, it is good to use that person to keep the team engaged through the process. The team already trusts their leader, so overcommunicating with them is critical.
- Make sure the team goes through the same process at the same time—no need for specialized interviews. Let them go through your standard process to make sure they get accepted by the current team. Having one round designed for team activity might be helpful, but it is not required.
- When you make an offer, make it to all of the team at the same time. And yes, you should expect the team will discuss it and share the offers with each other.
- Everyone from the team should feel free to accept or reject the offer on their own. It is their life. In the example of Adel Smee above, the team of eight developers ultimately split. Four of them joined one company, three another company, and one stayed with the original organization. It is often not all or nothing.
Putting it all together
Hiring micro teams may not be the norm, but because of the increasingly remote and hybrid work environment, you may see it happening more and more often. If you embrace this trend, you can create a competitive advantage for yourself and find candidates that would be difficult to get otherwise.
Keep an open mind, be flexible, overcommunicate, treat people with respect, and let the candidates bring their own team.
What is your take on the topic? Have you ever hired a whole team? What was your experience? What worked and what didn’t? Have you ever applied for a job as a part of a team? What was the interview process? Would you do it again?
Photo: coffeebeanworks / Pixabay.com
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