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Business Insight: How to hire the right team player

Published May 15, 2013 9:34 pm

Team interviews will yield the most revealing answers.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Bruce Piasecki, author of "Doing More with Teams: The New Way to Winning," says in a global economy even the most brilliant individual cannot compete with a cohesive, high-functioning team.

Why not look for the best performer among applicants?

In this swift and severe new world, companies cannot afford bad hires. Owners and captains must select the most workable team possible for efficiency, cost-competitiveness and long-term survival. That means choosing loyal, inventive team players who are aware of the needs of the company and focus on them above the needs of their own egos. There is a magic and power in teams that is measureable, important and surprising. And it takes a coachable individual to become part of a cohesive team. The best coachable team players are not necessarily those who had the highest grade point averages or went to the best schools. The MVP syndrome that trips up such stellar players often hits in the first and second decade of their careers — they literally cannot help themselves, and you cannot invest enough time to coach them for the next leap forward. If you cannot coach stellar players into a team players, they will leave in a costly huff.

What's the advantage of having an interview team?

General Electric has found a 360-degree view of the candidate is critical. With a reliable selection team made up of captains who are actual "doers"—the key executives and managers in your firm, rather than just the rules-makers from the HR department — you're more likely to select high-potential players. The candidate's interaction with the interview team demonstrates whether or not he or she is aware of social value as the source of financial value. The selected candidate should have an intrinsic ability to "bond" with the interview team, not just the hiring manager or boss. This doesn't mean an affinity for small talk or articulate schmoozing. You want players who can contribute to this shared set of actions immediately, who long to do that, who crave your recognition that they do that. And you can see this quality during the interview process.

What do rapid-fire questions reveal about an applicant?

Essentially, these questions, conveyed in the right tone of support, reveal the candidate's agility and tact in addressing the conditions of our swift and severe world. People who are not frozen before a team of interviewers tend in most situations to have the grace and force and social knowledge to outmaneuver changing circumstances. Overall, I look for people who demonstrate grace under pressure, who know how to exert force when appropriate, and who show a sense of respect and fascination in the team as people, not functions. If you softball the interviews, allowing a genteel and unreal feeling to exist, you will not find the loyal, high-performing team player who matters. On the other hand, you do not want candidates who are rampantly rude. Instead you seek someone who balances performance and social value in everything they do.

What are some revealing interview questions?

The key question is, "What was your best team experience?" There is something in human nature, larger and deeper than individual ambition, that seeks connection with and recognition by teams. Once you find a person who's in touch with that need, you will win far more than average, however complex the challenge. The second-best question is, "In the best of all possible worlds, do you want one or more mentors, and why?" You want someone who needs, who craves, several mentors, yet who respects that they, too, have performance goals. People who want only to work with and for the CEO or the founder are typically not great team players. Finally, ask, "How coachable are you?" Then, ask the captain of the interview team if he or she finds the answers believable, and why. It is amazing how much you can tell about a person's ability to be coached in a few direct questions. Record and remember these answers, and coach around them as the new hire moves ahead in the company. Bruce Piasecki, author






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