Why You Should Hire Great Teams, Not Genius Individuals

HR Insights for Professionals

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Monday, December 17, 2018

Hiring people that can work well together is much more important than taking on one or two standout individuals. Here's why.

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When it comes to recruitment, one of the biggest problems is that professionals are instantly drawn to people they like. This unconscious bias is a significant obstacle for companies wanting to hire the best people for the job, not the most like them.

It's something that has plagued HR departments for years and continues to do so. People overwhelmingly want to give jobs to candidates that they think they'll get on with or that are particularly skilled in a discipline they're familiar with. However, this isn't the best approach for finding a team that will work collaboratively and effectively.

Instead of looking for standout individuals, recruitment strategies need to focus on finding great teams to enjoy the ultimate success.

In a Ted Talk with Adam Grant, astronaut Paolo Nespoli talks about the importance of building trust that isn't based on a like or dislike of other people. He says professionals often ignore who is the best suited to a certain task but will instead turn to the colleagues they get on with the most in times of uncertainty.

Liking your colleagues isn't important

"Liking your coworkers isn't all it's cracked up to be. Think about the last time you reached out to a colleague for everyday advice, help or ideas on solving a problem. Who did you go to? In a study at a tech company, it turned out that people went to the colleagues they liked, regardless of their competence."

As part of NASA training, astronauts like Nespoli are sent on excursions to isolated areas with their colleagues to see how they act under stressful conditions and whether they are able to work together.

Jeff Ashby, Chief of Mission Assurance at Jeff Bezos' rocket company Blue Origin and former NASA Space Shuttle Commander, prepared for his spaceflight by travelling to Utah with his fellow astronauts.

He says knowing how people react in stressful environments is the best way of quickly building trust among colleagues. Once this is established, Ashby states, groups are able to understand how they can best help and support each other, as well as where their own weaknesses lie in the team.

Filling the skills gap

This suggests that recruitment should focus on finding teams that have been tested together, but how does that apply to a real world setting? HR is unlikely to be able to send a team into the Utah desert before they take on a big project or - even better - before they hire them, so what's the solution?

Open days or group interview sessions can help but, as Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant says, people need to spend a significant amount of time together before you can understand who they are when they're stressed. If you can't create these situations in hiring, then look for attributes that you are missing as a team or a company and find a candidate that fills them, whether or not you like them.

"We want to fit in and stand out. But most workplaces focus on the fitting in part. They hire on culture fit and end up just cloning the same backgrounds and skills over and over. Instead of culture fit, what you want is cultural contribution. Don't ask whether someone matches your culture. Ask what's missing from your culture and bring in people who can enrich it. That doesn't require you to be best friends."

Hiring great teams, not geniuses

Finding candidates that fit into your team is quite a challenge before you've hired them. However, by looking for qualities that are needed within the organization you can ensure that the professionals you're hiring will provide value to the company, even if they're not going to be best friends with their colleagues.

Google's former Head of HR Laszlo Bock said he always prioritized storytelling in prospective candidates. This is because it allows the interviewers to see the "person behind the skills". It also shows whether people have basic transferable skills like being able to work independently, understanding the needs of an organization, and teaming up with colleagues, that are unlikely to come out in the normal interview process.

For teams to work at all, there needs to be an established culture of respect for each other based on an understanding of competency. This will rely on the company having a fair recruitment and development system, where people are rewarded for hard work and loyalty.

Once you have this as a foundation, you can work with teams to develop their emotional awareness by encouraging team building  exercises that take them out of their comfort zone and force them to work together.

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