Every boss dreams of the perfect team, but since there isn’t such a thing, settle for the next best — a team you’ve created and carefully trained.
Hiring the best people does not necessarily equate to creating the best team. Like cogs in a well-oiled machine, you don’t need to find the perfect employees, just the ones that can fit in perfectly into your team. More importantly, after hiring the ones you wanted, you got to have the ability to keep them.
Here are practical tips to help you to establish a solid team:
1. Ask The Right Questions
Most interviews revolve around these three categories:
- Standard questions: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years”, “What made you apply for us”, etc.
- “Random question of the day”: “If you were an animal, which one would it be?”, “What’s your favorite US state?”
- Situational questions: “How would you conduct a customer survey”, “What steps do you take before you commit a code change?”
The first group of questions is fine — at least a few of them.
The second category doesn’t make sense. Some psychologists have decided that there is a certain correlation to preferences but this one is completely subjective.
Are Situational Questions Effective?
Situational questions are great in theory. But guess what: most people “know” how to behave in a given context. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will execute properly in practice.
Every organization outlines a set of processes, internal procedures, and workflows. People often neglect many of them. They skip a step or two.
And sometimes, that makes sense. It’s better to omit a step in a given scenario in case the processes are outdated and don’t work in practice anymore.
As a final note: It’s easy to prepare for each category. It takes a couple of weeks to go over 500 common questions and ace an interview with the “right” answer.
It’s About How You Frame Your Questions
Behavioral questions revolve around real scenarios.
My favorite read on this topic is Amazon.com: High-Impact Interview Questions: 701 Behavior-Based Questions to Find the Right Person for Every Job eBook: Victoria Hoevemeyer: Kindle Store which covers a lot more than the 701 questions. It helps you define a set of competencies per role or a department, and scale from there.
But my favorite aspect of behavioral questions is looking for traits that are not obvious.
“How did you handle the most annoying customer ever? Tell me about them.”
On the surface, the question asks about the right process you employ during customer service. Behind the scenes, the interviewer gauges the most intense situations you’ve dealt with at work and compares them with the day-to-day on the job.
Plus, faking stories gets exponentially more complicated with the right follow-up questions. You’ll either hear what you were interested in or catch someone red-handed and realize immediately that they would keep lying if you hire them.
2. Find The Ones That Can Fit In
a. Those With Personality And Social Skills
Personality and social skills are pretty important for several reasons.
- A growing organization revolves around teamwork. Lack of decent social skills is a drawback, a liability even in certain cases.
- Companies generally care about some form of a “company culture”. Startups and smaller companies try to surround themselves with self-alike since you spend all week long at the office and don’t want any office drama or politics. Large corporations try to avoid PR conflicts, backlash on social media, or other high-level scandals, including poor ratings of their brands.
- Software engineers still have to attend meetings and participate in tech + business discussions.
- Opportunities for career growth rely on personality. You can’t promote a socially awkward expert to a team lead or a project manager, it will have its own implications.
You don’t have to be an accomplished car salesperson to land a job as an engineer. But common sense and basic communication skills are crucial for your hiring, onboarding, training, and ongoing involvement in the organization.
b. Those Who Are Perfect for Culture Fit
I’ve done a lot of hiring for my own company, sat at interviews for three of my former employers, and assisted with recruitment for different clients of mine.
Internally, what we look for are:
- Hard Workers – We’re not an enterprise and don’t want to be one. It’s more of a startup culture, every person counts and one or two slackers can really affect the bottom line. As a result, we try to work on internal tools and projects that are intriguing and give credit for contributions to open source tools of ours, added exposure for speaking gigs, and everything in-between.
- Aptitude for Learning – The problems we solve are often non-trivial. They require a custom-tailored approach that could scale. Fetching a basic tutorial online won’t get the job done, really. That’s why we ask applicants what they tend to read (blogs, books) or whether they work on side projects or take courses outside of work.
- Proactiveness – The ability to raise concerns, suggest ideas, improve the codebase and our documentation, and everything in-between. We don’t want to babysit people; we’d rather assign ownership of activities to those willing to walk the walk.
- Team Players – The reason this matters is twofold: a 10x employee won’t get far without collaboration and we want to avoid interpersonal conflicts, drama and other forms of tension at the workplace. Combined with #3, this results in transparency. Plus, we want a friendly and open culture that is a safe space.
- Some Interest in Business Problems – We are effectively a consultancy. All teams work together to come up with ideas for improving our customers’ products, be it via UX, performance enhancements, new automation features, a marketing twist that could work out well. Being solely focused on your field alone is harder to manage.
- Analytical Thinking – We look for creativity and logical approaches to various problems. This is why we’ve been building some internal tools and systems, plan some IoT solutions at the office, and always look for fun improvements to our workflows.
For in-house workers, we’re a pet-friendly environment with a dog at the office and a couple of rooms with hookahs. It’s obviously important for people to be receptive to that 🙂
When helping my clients with hiring, I conduct an internal assessment of the key players working in the organization, both management and top employees making a difference. Larger enterprises are mostly about following processes effectively. Small startups are usually about execution and wearing multiple hats a day.
3. No to Tardiness and Job Hopping
The professional life of an unpunctual worker won’t last too long. The problem with the lack of punctuality takes various forms:
- Delivering past deadlines
- Being late for important meetings
- Potentially failing a meeting with a client/partner (even at lower level roles)
This automatically triggers a red flag with a bright label, all caps, stating “UNRELIABLE”.
Being able to depend on someone is crucial. Even with punctual folks, delays happen. Unexpected surprises. Exceptions.
Lack of context. Misinterpreting an assignment. Belated deliverables from a third-party. Which is why even the best companies have infrequent “delays” for external reasons. Sometimes, this may be sick leave or another unexpected scenario.
But delivering on time 20 times and being 5-minutes late for one is negligible.
Being consistently late and unreliable isn’t worth keeping you around.
The Consequences of Job Hopping
On the other hand, job-hopping doesn’t look good on a CV and the 2-year mark is often an acceptable period of time (i.e. leaving sooner is considered a hop). Some companies would define shorter appropriate terms at times (12–18 months) while more conservative industries and traditional employment positions may look at 4 years as an expected minimum duration.
I’ll skip the positive reasons for a moment (such as violent workplaces or misalignments between the interview and the day job).
The reason job-hopping appears as worrisome is:
- It indicates a pattern of leaving soon (short retention).
- Many job-hoppers switch workplaces only to pursue higher salaries.
- It may indicate inconsistency or the type of temperament that doesn’t fit most environments.
- This may serve as a signal for an employee who isn’t a good team player and hadn’t found a suitable place yet, which is questionable by itself.
- It also questions the ability of an applicant to tackle interviews properly, both presenting themselves as capable (and honest) during the interview and not falling for BS if a recruiter calls them and promises rainbows and unicorns.
4. Always Conduct A Review
Set clear KPIs, weekly milestones, certain quality standards to follow.
It’s usually a combination of:
- Time frames split into weekly sprints or the like.
- Conventions, quality requirements, other documentation/guidelines to ensure the right process is followed.
- Specific goals to be achieved with the job (whenever applicable).
In any case, the only way to conduct a performance improvement plan (or whatever you’d call a warning followed by a trial run), you need the right metrics to ensure that everything is running smooth.
Different Metrics for Different Types of Team
With our dev team, we have coding standards and technical docs for most stuff, along with sprint tasks with estimates. We also share project-specific estimates, i.e. monthly traffic, database volume, concurrent users. Delaying tasks or producing poor quality systematically is discussed and can serve as a reason for termination.
The marketing team has certain KPIs. Writers have a weekly average of article/word count to stick on though it’s mostly a monthly direction (since some guides may be longer, require more research, use external quotes, etc.) There are certain writing guidelines including image sources, formatting, internal link building.
QAs are gauged based on problems found across a set of TestRail tests and other checklists for testing across different browsers and OS. If developers (or even clients) find a couple of issues missed by QA, it’s becoming a problem.
It’s not always trivial but that’s how it works most of the time. With remote teams specifically, you’ll likely need to ensure crisp communication. Many companies use time trackers for that or even screen recorders to double-check in case of doubts.
5. Give Feedback
My #1 problem is evaluating performance without KPIs in place.
Some employees get really defensive when there’s any criticism during the feedback phase.
And performance, for the most part, isn’t easily measurable. A problematic employee may:
- Produce poor quality work
- Spend half of the day slacking
- Keep pestering the rest of the team all day long
- Work slowly and inefficiently
But those may be hard to evaluate.
- For every problematic assignment, they may point to their “top work”, or excuse themselves.
- Slacking may be justified as waiting for feedback, compiling, brainstorming, reminiscing.
- Pestering the team is easily followed up with “teamwork” or other justifications.
- Slow work may be faced with “quality” or the like.
Even if you have some hard data in place, it’s not always applicable, or easily comparable.
- Tell a writer they are slow simply because their typing speed is slower, or they produce 1,500 words over a longer period of time.
- Compare a programmer and their completed task with other tasks. Each assignment is individual.
- Tell a marketer their strategy is poor simply because it’s a long-term game vs. a short-term win.
That’s one of the tough parts of being a manager. Eventually, you need to put them on a performance improvement plan and hope they will get back on track.
6. Establish Best Practices
When we hired our VP of Engineering, he came with some sensible (and legit) improvements to the technical process which we couldn’t enforce earlier. His tactic contrasted with ours in several different ways, the two I can name are:
- Introducing a new motto for the dev team being “stressless environment”, meaning that all of our processes aim for calmness of mind, limited overtime or late night emergencies whatever the reason.
- Gamifying penalties by teaching a lesson without causing far too much stress. For instance, he never drinks alcohol yet he charges a bottle of whiskey and stacks these on his desk, as a badge of honor and a firm reminder in the future.
For instance, our deployment process wasn’t streamlined enough. We ran a couple of revisions of our git workflow and found some ways to work around longer deploy cycles. Also, he built our Deployer Bot and introduced a daily process of signaling a deploy in the morning, scheduling a time, preparing task links and a pull request, and assigning for a code review to the senior tech leadership.
Needless to say, this was convoluted at first, but failing to request that led to some unpleasant bugs missed by the QA team or merged branches which weren’t properly structured. After some back and forth (and a quantifiable comparison), teammates started utilizing the deployer bot and enjoyed the painless process of launching with the calmness of mind (with a couple of safety nets after pushing their PR).
Bottom line, convince your crew that those best practices are not a bureaucratic overhead that they’re used to but actually bring value to the team. Use practical examples, tasks, pull requests, commits, business scenarios, customer requests. It may take a few turns but gradually, the team will agree to give this a shot.
7. Trust Your Team
There are certain traits you can gauge and test for a while. Examples:
- Business acumen
- Communication chops
- Leadership potential
- Commitment to the job
Once you’ve established the basis, start with small tests and iterate.
Assign them simple tasks. See how well they did, whether these were done on time, was back-and-forth required. Analyze the creative aspect – did they follow requirements to the T or proposed and followed through with a better workflow?
Give them a vague task. See how they react:
- Do they freak out when context is insufficient?
- Are they willing to tackle the problem regardless?
- Do they ask the right follow-up questions?
- Is the task taken lightly, without the appropriate seriousness and attitude?
- Is the assignment hanging out there with no progress due to incomplete requirements?
Most would fail anyway. And that’s fine.
Here’s the Goal
Your goal is to analyze their behavior, recognize their potential, and work on the corresponding areas.
Some people aren’t born to be leaders, nor do they strive for that. Find the ones who can do the job and likely will stay long enough to help you scale (or train others along the way).
It is definitely a challenging part of the process. And some mistakes will happen.
Accept that as soon as possible and add some fault-tolerant constraints. Incorporate the right processes in place which would minimize the regularity and impact of these mistakes.
Take the first step and start delegating. And be smart about it. Within the right controlled environment at first, you can make adjustments on the fly and upgrade your team’s soft and professional skills while helping them advance in their careers.
Get more practical tips on hiring when you visit this link: https://mariopeshev.com/business/recruitment/the-practical-guide-to-hiring-employees/