Dr. Ben Dattner, an industrial and organizational psychologist and author of The Blame Game: How the Hidden Rules of Credit and Blame Determine Our Success or Failure, describes the ideal. “The individual components of the team have to be talented, motivated and qualified,” he says. “And the team itself has to [have] a balance of skills and styles and a good diversity of approaches.”
Phyllis Shaurette, human resources consultant and owner of People Development and Staffing, recruits individuals for her clients’ teams, sometimes interviewing close to 20 candidates per week. She’s seen the difference a well-balanced team can make to an organization. When employees are productive and working cohesively to meet their goals, they’re simply a lot happier. “[Having a strong team] certainly improves productivity and reduces turnover,” she says. “It just creates a lot more success.”
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“Interviews are often invalid and unreliable because people do them in an informal way. I suggest standardizing the questions and interview format for each position so you can compare apples to apples.”
Dr. Ben Dattner, industrial and organizational psychologist
While it might sound straightforward, building an effective team can be a tall order, according to renowned industrial psychology expert Dr. R. Wendell Williams, who is the founder and managing director of ScientificSelection.com, LLC. Someone might look good on paper and perform well during an interview, but that’s no guarantee of success. “What we find is that half those people fail to meet [the hiring manager’s] expectations,” he says.
You can increase your odds of assembling an effective team if you take a good look at the kinds of competencies you need in order to meet your goals. Williams suggests asking, “Do the team members have the skills to do what they are supposed to do?” According to him, a highly functional work team includes individuals who are conceptual, analytical, structured and social. “You want all four represented,” he advises.
Williams also explains that there is a continuum of different kinds of team structures. On one end of the spectrum is a team that is highly directed and simply expected to carry out tasks it is told to do only,” he says. “This is a team in name only,” he says. At the other end, there are teams that are self-directed and autonomous. “These people are given the authority and responsibility for managing themselves. They decide what they are going to do and how they are going to do it, within parameters.”
The ideal spot is wherever the organization wants it to be, Williams notes, explaining that different structures work well in different industries and company cultures.
Once you’ve identified the best players and structure for your team, determine which candidates in the stack of resumes are a good fit. Dattner recommends what he calls the judicious use of interviews. “Interviews are often invalid and unreliable because people do them in an informal way,” he says. He suggests standardizing the questions and interview format for each position so you can “compare apples to apples.”
Dattner also believes in having two or three individuals interview candidates separately rather than conducting large panel interviews. “Don’t discuss the candidates before you reach your own individual judgment,” he stresses, a practice he says will help prevent bias. “It is less about trying to come up with a group-think conclusion.”
When appropriate, “You might want to do a try-and-buy arrangement,” he says, which means hiring candidates to do a smaller project before adding them to your team on a permanent basis. “If they are successful, offer them a full-time job.”
Once you’ve put in the legwork to build an effective team, you want to keep it that way. “The first thing you want to do is orient [employees] well to the team,” Dattner says. This includes giving them the opportunity to get to know one another and the company culture.
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Next, it’s important that managers are trained to lead and keep the team motivated. “Research shows that 70 to 80 percent of managers have no ability to manage people,” says Williams. “It shouldn’t come as a surprise that people cite their immediate manager as the source of job dissatisfaction.” In short, a quality manager is critical to a quality team.
Once a team has been working together for six months or more, it’s a great idea to conduct a 360-degree team assessment. “You want the team to have a dynamic before you assess it,” Dattner says. “[The 360-degree team assessment] takes the temperature and asks ‘How well do we think we’re doing?’” This quest for continuous self-evaluation and improvement can help teams become stronger and more effective over time.
In the end, there are many moving parts to a highly effective team—individuals with the right skills and motivation, the correct team structure for the tasks at hand and strong leadership. But while everyone brings their own talents to the group, it’s important that they all share one mutual sentiment in order to be successful. “There is no team without trust,” sums up Shaurette.
Following these guidelines can help you build and maintain your professional dream team—one that is more likely to enjoy playing the game and win it as well.
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