The England national football team was all over the news when they lost to Iceland at Euro 2016.
As football is such a big thing here in the UK, all the experts were surmising the reasons for “one of the national team’s worst performances”; the role of the manager, the game preparation, the impact of Premiere League playing styles…
They also talked about the lesson from “the small team” – how gratitude feels (and does good). Why it is important to appreciate one another and work as a unit.
As a team leader, you can learn a great deal from this. It’s tempting to hire solely based on skills, experience and talent (and sometimes, hiring is done in panic mode!). But ensuring that collective performance outweighs individual exploits begins with team alchemy.
The question is, can you spot a good team player? Whilst skills give assurance, the real impact happens when individuals are able to work together. How can you know if your new talent will form a positive partnership with your existing team?
The answer: use smart interview questions to spot a good team player at first sight.
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Will the candidate communicate well enough to bond with others?
Most team issues stem from miscommunication. Good communicators deliver a clear message, focused on their interlocutors. That’s what makes them so good at building positive relationships. And how your ideal candidate positions her message should be the first thing that you want to observe.
Tell me about the project you’re most proud of. What was the plan? What was your process to get there? Was it an individual or collective achievement? What made it so?
The answer itself is informative only. In this scenario, you want to hear a succinct explanation (over-complicated statements are a sign of lack of structure). You also want to confirm the cooperative nature of the candidate. Does she spontaneously refer to partnerships? In what ways did she involve others in previous projects? Does she cite team collaboration as the answer to blind spots in decision making?
Observing body language is as important as the message itself. How does she tell her story? Can you see clear signs indicating she’s open and collaborative?
Can you spot a good team player who will prioritise cooperation in times of crisis?
Crisis situations can completely reverse normal team dynamics. Stress can significantly damage working relationships. On the other hand, a well-managed crisis can bring everyone around a common challenge, and build cohesion. This is the point you want to explore during the interview process, to identify a good team player.
Tell me about a time where you made a difficult decision and the whole plan went belly-up. How did you recover from your mistake? Where did you seek support?
The purpose of this question is twofold:
- understand how the candidate will engage with the team in challenging times
- see how they respond to stressful situations
Your candidate’s overriding attitude or approach could be the straw on the camel’s back and severely disrupt the team. But, equally, it could turn into the performance booster that everyone needs to move forward. This is where you want to get visibility. What will the candidate be like – Completer-Finisher? Coordinator? Challenger? What would this bring to the team? Could they bring confidence when stepping in the unknown?
A good team player can respond without being overwhelmed by the emotional context. Does her body language indicate that she’s come to terms with her mistake, and learned from it? A candidate who’s open about mistakes shows signs of honesty and emotional balance.
A candidate who’s open about mistakes shows signs of honesty and emotional balance. Click To Tweet
Will team and candidate be in a position to change together?
If you’re in a creative industry, or have big projects lined up, your new recruit will have to embrace change with joy and excitement. When a team and its leader can steadily navigate the unexpected, you want each new addition to remain consistent and flexible during times of uncertainty.
Can you describe a situation where you’ve been asked to drop your day job to move to a project? How did you feel about it? What was the most exciting aspect? What did you dislike most?
For this question, you want to understand where your candidate will go first (hence why we specifically mention “the most exciting aspects”). To be authentic at times of change is an art, and your team needs a good balance between drivers, blue sky thinkers, listeners, and networkers.
You also want to observe if the candidate looks genuinely excited when she tells her story. Can she highlight the positive aspects of her message? Does she naturally see the opportunity within the change? Look out for sentences like “Even though it was not my comfort zone, in the end I enjoyed it a lot because it showed me aspects of my role I’d never had a chance to explore in the past”. A candidate who is clear on their purpose will always be more flexible and adaptable.
Can you spot a good team player who will develop others?
Recruitment has changed.
Nowadays, people use a job description to support team development. Collaborative hiring is the norm.
Every good team player should be in a position to contribute to others’ development. Why not consider how your candidate could bring new hires into the job?
This is usually the time when I introduce a question that’s based outside of the office space, to facilitate a more personal understanding of the candidate.
So, let’s move out of the office zone. Tell me about a time where you had to train someone to do something you knew inside out. Where did you start? What were the key elements you focused on? Do you think skill is more important than experience?
A natural team player will describe a raw development process. Can she envision the key areas to focus on? Does she link delegation to education? Can she talk about how she sees her role in that activity?
A good team player will also be able to articulate which behaviours will work best with the team. Look out for sentences such as “we trained him in some specific game sequences and that went quite well. What was pivotal is probably that he took the time to hang out with us. Making the extra effort to know everyone in the team made us closer, and it paid off once we were on the pitch”.
Basing your interview path solely on skills and experience is outdated. In a world where collaboration is the main success factor for all teams, your ideal candidate must not only be skilled, but a perfect fit for your existing crew.
Even though collective performance builds over time, protecting the existing team dynamics begins with making sure each new addition will complement strengths and personalities.
What’s your favourite interview question to spot a good team player? Share in the comments below!