July 14, 2014

3 Steps to Spot a Team Player

Tennis players shaking hands at net with teammates hugging in backgroundA Businessweek study of office-based professionals revealed that 82 percent of them believed that they needed to collaborate and partner effectively through the course of the day to get their work done. Effective people collaborate in hallways, at desks, water-coolers, and flexible meetings spaces. Technically brilliant but self-isolating candidates may not cut the mustard or perform anywhere near as effectively as a less technically gifted team player. This is why I believe it is correct for recruiters hiring into modern white collar roles to place a strong emphasis on team work. In my experience, the idea of being a team player is often paid lip service, and team players are often not properly identified. Since being a team player is becoming so crucial (even essential) to success in white collar environments, I thought it was time to bring a focus on this area by outlining some effective ways to spot a team player in the hiring process.

Understand the characteristics of a team player

In my experience, the concept of team player is not properly defined, it usually focuses around whether a person can get on with others. Now, that is one crucial characteristic of being a team player, but there are 16 other essential characteristics of a team player according to John C. Maxwell in his book, The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player (the most definitive analysis of team player characteristics that I could find). These qualities were:

  1. Adaptable (highly teachable, emotionally secure and service orientated)
  2. Collaborative
  3. Committed
  4. Communicative
  5. Competent
  6. Dependable
  7. Disciplined
  8. Adds value to teammates
  9. Enthusiastic
  10. Purposeful
  11. Mission conscious
  12. Prepared
  13. Relational
  14. Self Improving
  15. Selfless
  16. Solution Orientated
  17. Tenacious

Now, you may wish to read the document in the link above to get a deeper understanding of these qualities within the context of team work, but as you can see, it’s much more than just being nice. At times it might require tenacity; working together more aggressively; adding value to the team as a team member; being prepared to take a back seat for the good of the team; keeping a focus on the big picture and overcoming obstacles. With an eye on this much deeper understanding of a team player, it’s important to spend good time screening for these characteristics, and below are some tips on how to do this.

Start early in the process

Reinvigorate cover letters by making them useful to your hiring process by requesting that all applicants give two or three examples of how they added value to the organization by effective team working and/or collaboration to see how well they exhibit these traits. Let them have a copy of this competency matrix if necessary to help them direct their answer more appropriately.

Interview questions

Use behavioral questions to bring a focus on team player qualities. Some good examples might be:

  1. Describe a challenging team situation where you were an effective team player and added value.
  2. Describe a situation where you had to raise a difficult or controversial subject with a manager or team member, which you knew could cause conflict.
  3. Can you describe a team situation that did not turn out as planned or as you hoped?
  4. Can you describe a team situation in which you believed that a team member was not contributing enough? What did you do? How did you react?
  5. Describe your best and worst experiences of working in a team?
  6. What is the most important thing you have learned from working in a team and please describe the situation in which you gained this insight?
  7. When did you make your first value adding contribution to the team in your last position?

As you can see, there are many more questions that can be asked than simply, Do you get along well with others? It’s about asking probing questions which will garner responses that demonstrate the candidates ability or inability to exhibit the essential characteristics of team work.

Good luck with hiring your next team player.

Read more in Hiring Process

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.