How to Build & Manage Great Teams, Part Two: Hiring the Right People

Have you ever worked on a team with such a great dynamic it was almost paranormal? You know, the kind where everyone clicks, everyone is committed to the work, and everyone is operating at peak potential? That’s not to say a great team is completely without problems—there’s no such thing—but they deal with those problems (and everything else) quickly and efficiently.

I’ve been fortunate to be on a great team like that a few times in my career. And I’ve seen the other side, too, the seemingly cursed group that struggles with every little thing.

As a leader at Pantheon, it’s my mission to keep teams here on the great side of the equation. The good news is that building and managing a great team is possible; it takes effort and commitment, but it’s always doable.

Over the last 15 years I’ve spent a lot of time researching great teams, from books to blog posts to TED Talks and more. My insights are shaped by all of that plus my first-hand experiences managing teams here and elsewhere.

In the first post of this series, I outlined the five characteristics of an exceptional team. Once you have laid that groundwork, the next step is to expand the team while keeping the dynamic intact.

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Expanding the Team: Finding the Right People

When your team is operating at maximum potential, you’re bound to attract more business. That means more work, and more people to help tackle the work. The challenge is to hire people who will mesh with the team and enhance it, not slow it down.

1. Identify the Need

Before you start hiring, you need to pinpoint exactly what roles you need to have filled. It seems like a no-brainer, of course. “We have more design work than we can handle, so we need another designer.” But when your team is at capacity, you have a perfect opportunity to dig deeper and see what the team truly needs.

I recommend asking the following questions, in order, to really dig into where your gaps are:

  1. What are we doing now that we can let go of?

  2. What are we missing right now?

  3. What can each team member give to someone else?

  4. What does each member want to do more of?

Have your team write out what they’re doing, what they’re good at, what they like and what they would like to hand off to someone else. When you combine the things people would like to hand off, you may discover new roles to fill that will directly address the team’s needs, all the while allowing your current team members to further specialize, grow and take on new responsibilities.

2. Know Your Values

What are your team’s values? Your brand’s values? You can’t hire someone that fits your values if you don’t have them developed. Work with your team to express the fundamental principles that inform all the work you do. Then, as you interview, listen for signs of those shared values.

At Pantheon, for instance, we have identified four core values:

  1. Customers come first

  2. Trust: Earn it, Deserve it

  3. Teamwork: No lone wolves

  4. Passion: It matters

When we’re talking to prospective hires we can use these as filters. So, for instance, we want candidates who are able to share stories about how they have provided help to customers. We listen for examples of empathy and watch out for anyone complaining or saying something like “they don’t know what’s good for them.”

3. Interview Holistically

There are four types of interview questions:

  1. Factual: Testing knowledge

  2. Skill Assessment: Testing ability

  3. Behavioral: Exploring past behavior (“Tell me about a time when…”)

  4. Situational: Exploring hypothetical future behavior (“What would you do if…”)

Job interviews, especially in tech, tend to focus on the first two. We want to find out what the candidate knows and what they can do. So we tend to overlook the softer, more touchy-feely behavioral and situational questions.

To preserve and elevate your team dynamic, however, your candidate’s potential and approach are at least as important as their current skills. Give behavioral and situational questions equal time in your interview process. Take time to find out what the candidate is like, what motivates them, and how their personality will fit in the team.

So, for example, if you were looking for a developer, you might ask the candidate to tell you about the biggest engineering challenge they’ve had to overcome. Ask them to share how they approached it and how they found a solution. This will give you insights into their approach, exposing their style and values, among other things.

Similarly, to get a sense for how they would do things in this new role, you might ask them to share how they would approach adding a specific new feature to an existing website. Listen to their thought processes and make sure that their approach is one that would work well with your existing norms.

4. Understand Motivation

What makes people want to excel at their work? The usual answer is some kind of tangible reward: High salary, great benefits, the potential for bonuses and advancement. And, yes, while we all have bills to pay, it turns out that those factors are reasons to leave a team, not stay and/or excel. Our real motivators are quite different.

Daniel Pink gives a fantastic TED Talk on the Puzzle of Motivation. In the talk, he shares the results of an oft-repeated study on motivation. In each study, researchers assembled two teams and tasked them with solving a problem. One team was promised a monetary reward for those who did the task quickly. In some cases, the reward was a nominal amount, in others a substantial sum. The other team would receive nothing but were told they were being timed to see how long it would take.

Guess which group was faster? In tasks that require any creativity, teams with no financial motivation outperform teams who could earn money by completing the tasks quickly. The lesson: money alone isn’t a sufficient motivator. It turns out we seek:

  1. Autonomy: The potential to discover solutions and make decisions without having to wait for approval.

  2. Mastery: The ability to learn and grow, enhancing existing skills and developing new ones.

  3. Purpose: The knowledge that the work is meaningful.

Make sure your new team member understands how all they will have all of the above in your new role. They’ll be far more likely to accept any offer you make and bring excitement and energy to the team once they start.

Grow Your Team with the Right People for the Right Reasons

Bringing new people onto a high-functioning team is always a risk. But if you take time to hire people with the skills and the values your team needs, you’re far more likely to expand the team’s capacity without sacrificing what works.

For Further Reading:

If you want to dig deeper into any of these ideas, here are some resources that I particularly recommend:

  1. Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization, by Dave Logan, John King & Halee Fischer-Wright

  2. Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink

  3. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins

  4. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck

  5. Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose, by Tony Hsieh

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Next Up

In the third installment of this series, I’ll cover the role of management in elevating and empowering a team.

This is the 2nd post in a series of articles on great teams. Read the rest: