March 31, 2014

How To Hire Team Players

Low angle view of referee with opponent team players shaking hand against skyA Leadership IQ study shows that one of the main reasons that new hires fail is not down to technical incompetency, which accounts for just 11 percent of failures, but due to a failure in attitude, which actually accounts for 89 percent of failures. What was interesting was that nearly half of the failings were linked to a lack of teamwork; that is 26 percent of new hires failed due to not being able to accept and implement feedback from bosses, colleagues, customers and other team members. And 23 percent of workers’ failures related to a failure to manage one’s own emotions accurately and those of others.

Teamwork is proven to be a far more important selection factor than technical skills, and hiring processes that are too technically focused, while sacrificing a teamwork assessment focus, are unlikely to correctly separate star performers from the mediocre. I think that assessment processes should incorporate a huge team-working assessment element, and below I have described how to do this.

Interview in a team setting

Team exercises, such as those seen in assessment centers, are a great way to assess team working, but they are not an option for many small businesses. So, why not conduct interviews in a relaxed team setting with perhaps four to five individuals, including peers and superiors, to see how candidates respond in a team setting?

Candidates with good collaborative and interpersonal skills should excel in this kind of environment. Great team players will be able to build a fast and strong rapport with all members of the group, and will be comfortable disagreeing with certain suggestions or raising potentially controversial questions without antagonizing members. They’ll also be comfortable with expressing their opinions and will be able to do so in an appropriate way.

Another behavior that you are likely to observe in great team players is an ability to work well with peers, subordinates and senior staff. So, try and have a diverse interview team in terms of grade so you can observe the individual’s ability to collaborate effectively at all levels of the hierarchy. Great team members will be able to develop a good rapport at all levels of the hierarchy.

You might also want to bring in a representative from outside the immediate team in which the candidate would be working. Perhaps you could include a representative from an internal customer or department that the job incumbent’s team work closely with. This enables you to observe how well they can build a rapport with looser connections/weaker ties and avoid developing a silo mentality with the close, stronger ties in their team.

At some point in the interview (perhaps at 2nd interview stage), you might want to do an office tour so you can see them collaborating with team members in the actual team environment of your office. True team players and workers will excel in this kind of team interviewing environment as it will give them the opportunity to display their social team-working skills and mentality.


You can and should ask some questions around team working but observing team working in an assessment center styled format is generally considered to be the most reliable form of assessment, and I think actually observing their teamwork in action is the best way to assess their team-working skills. You can supplement this observational assessment of team-working skills with some additional probing questions, such as:

  1. Can you be a good team player and disagree with your manager?
  2. What questions spring to mind a few minutes prior to your first meeting with a new project team?
  3. What do you do if you disagree with the direction the team is taking on solving a problem?

But, I believe that the most reliable way to assess team-working skills is to observe them interacting in a team setting as I have shown earlier in the article. Good luck with your next hire.

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.