Getting the Right People on your Team Bus

I recently conducted a workshop on building highly-effective teams with a group of service leaders and their team members. During a coffee break, one of the leaders and I were chatting about the challenges of team building, and he asked me a great question, “How do I make sure that I’m hiring the right people for my team?” It seems like that question should have a straightforward answer. In reality, most recruiting, interviewing, and hiring processes are focused on the individual and are not designed for today’s flatter organizations that are highly dependent upon teams for their success. So how do you get the right people to fill the seats on your team bus?

Know Thy Team

Getting the right people on your team starts with having a clear understanding of the purpose of your team, a sense of the mix of people you’ll need, and the level of support they will get from the organization. Start with a clear, compelling description of the purpose of your team. That purpose should be aligned with the job design of every team member. Good job design describes the purpose of the role, considers the role content (the typical responsibilities and skills), and the role context. The context of the role helps people to understand the way in which work is performed. It includes the organizational culture and your team’s norms, everyday work processes, as well as key measures of success. Last, reflect upon the resources the team has available to accomplish its goals and be mindful of the level of support available to a new member. With clarity of purpose, job design, and a realistic idea of the level of support available, you are ready to evaluate potential team members by focusing on two critical areas: motivation and relationships.

Uncovering Motivation: Beyond Wanting a Job

If you have done much hiring then you can relate to the typical scenario of candidates ‘selling’ themselves to get the job, irrespective of actual fit. Then you, the ‘buyer,” having to figure out what features and benefits (experiences and skills) are real, versus embellished, and looking for reasons to say no versus yes. It is an unproductive and frustrating process, and often results in disappointment.

Experience and skills are important, but only if they accompany behaviors that raise the effectiveness and well-being of the entire team. You need to understand what really motivates your prospective hire, then make sure that aligns with your team’s purpose and the job design. Try these three steps to get a sense of each candidate’s work motivation:

  1. Rather than regurgitating their well-rehearsed resume chronology, ask your prospective team member to describe the two or three themes that define their career journey. Be prepared to ask a couple of times, as typically only strong critical thinkers can quickly switch from their script.
  2. With those themes in mind, ask your candidate to think about a few great days at work, and what got them excited and energized on each occasion. Then ask the opposite. On those bad days, ask what drained their energy and level of engagement. Listen for consistencies with the themes.
  3. Now, ask where they find meaning and purpose in their work. Listen carefully for consistencies or inconsistencies with their themes and good and bad day events, Then, envision this person on your team given the purpose, context, and the job design.

Past Relationships – Your Early-Warning Radar

The most important step in finding the right person is to recognize the central role of key relationships in team effectiveness and well-being. You want team members who will foster strong, trusting relationships with you or their team leader and other co-workers. The key to getting insights into their potential effects on your team is to ask about their experiences with recent team leaders and teammates versus their expectations. Listen for gaps between the experiences they had versus their expectations, and then create the following conversation:

  1. It sounds like your experience with (your team leader, teammate, etc.) fell short of your expectations. Tell me more about that.
  2. Why do you believe that there was a gap between what you experienced versus your expectation?
  3. What did you do to close the gap?

Like early-warning radar, the answers to those questions will give you a solid sense of how well this person will either improve or diminish your team’s effectiveness. If you hear answers that demonstrate self-awareness and taking responsibility for both the conversation and closing gaps, you have someone with strong team potential. If you don’t, you’ve been warned, and you will have coaching work ahead of you.

Filling the Seats

Your approach to filling the seats on your team bus should use the same framework that you use to build an engaged, highly-effective team. The difference is that you use an understanding of what motivates candidates, and the way they manage key relationships, as a means of predicting success. It is important to focus on hiring a team member first, and an individual second, as you aspire to build an exceptional team.


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About the Author

Dr. Jeb Hurley is a leading expert on team dynamics and building high-performance hybrid / remote teams. He guides leaders in understanding and influencing human behavior and creating trust and psychological safety. Jeb’s innovative, behavioral science-based approach to leadership development improves team performance and people’s wellbeing faster and at a lower cost. Learn more about Jeb’s work at Brainware Partners.