A balanced team has complementary skill sets, is self-sufficient, delivers results, fosters a sense of belonging and functions as a whole. Balanced teams do not have a single point of failure; knowledge and responsibilities are shared. Every team member brings value to the team and makes the whole better. Balanced teams have longevity; they are not one-hit wonders, they instead consistently deliver value.
Building such teams can be coincidental, or can be intentional and repeated.
In this article, I explore how to approach and conduct interviews to identify individuals who can potentially add to the evolution of balanced teams.
In the pursuit of an ideal candidate, what matters? What needs to be taken into consideration when evaluating and interviewing a candidate?
Critical Thinking - borne of Systems Thinking, the whole over the individual parts, Outcomes over Output. First Principles Thinking. Simplicity. Innovation. Working with constraints. Can they connect the dots? Root cause over symptoms. Facts and data; over assumptions, opinions & biases. How well does a candidate exhibit these traits?
Delivering Results - it is ultimately about delivering results. Value. Do they focus on what matters? In their pursuit, do they strike a balance? Between pragmatism and idealism. Do they illustrate the aptitude to make informed trade-offs? Do they optimize for tight feedback loops?
Culture Add - borne of diversity in thought, gender, race and background. Given psychological safety, can they express themselves in a way that improves the team? Can they receive and provide feedback? Both positive and negative. Can they agree to disagree, and have the maturity and curiosity to iterate to learn more and improve the circumstances? Will they bring healthy team conflict? At a minimum, target a cultural fit, but ideally, seek more.
It is rare to find a candidate that checks all of the above. It takes years of learning and unlearning to get to a level that fulfils this criterion, and keeping a keen eye out for potential that can deliver on this, is important in building any team.
The Interview Process.
Most team interviews are usually three-part interviews that attempt to cover the following aspects:
Technical/Expertise Assessment - are they capable?
Cultural Assessment - will they fit with the existing bunch?
Bar-Raiser/Hiring Manager Assessment - are they the right candidate for the organisation?
There are two kinds of interview processes:
Unstructured - with this approach, trust is placed on the interviewers to know what to assess, and therein lies the incongruency of it. Each interviewer will have their criteria which are not necessarily aligned with those of other interviewers. It is susceptible to individual biases.
Structured - this approach provides a better platform for assessing candidates on an even playing field. It is the epitome of teamwork as well, as it seeks to bring alignment on what, why and how of identifying and getting the ideal candidate(s). An improvement on the unstructured approach, but also susceptible to in-group biases.
Structured interviews tend to yield better results, and are common with more established organisations. One of the best approaches to structured interviews is articulated in chapter 2 of the book Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon.
Unstructured interviews are common with start-ups and tend to be more fluid and agile when it comes to meeting individuals where they are. Instead of "force feeding", an interview process on an individual, one has an opportunity to meet their candidate where they are and understand them as an individual. A recommended read for a great approach to interviewers that use this approach is Joel Sposky's guide.
Overcoming Unconscious Biases.
Both of the interview processes described above are susceptible to unconscious biases.
Is it possible to overcome unconscious biases? Paving the way for balanced teams in every sense of the word - diversity of thought, diversity of origin, diversity of colour, diversity of gender, inclusion and equity.
At the end of the day, we have to aspire to eliminate unconscious bias. It is, unfortunately, one of those things in life we succumb to. We are social beings, and we crave belonging, and nothing stops us from connecting with those from different backgrounds, races and gender. It however takes effort to get there. Cognitive effort.
What if we choose to be inclusive from day one, from the ground up, from the roots? How do we focus on talent, over-familiarity?
The perils of groupthink and/or echo chambers are well-documented, so I will skip straight to my point. To hire for balanced teams, and ultimately for diversity, we need to be intentional about:
What do we wish to build? A balanced team.
Who fits the criteria? Competent people.
How do we find them? By being intentional.
Implications of being Intentional.
Of course, there are implications to being intentional with how you recruit for balanced teams.
It takes longer to recruit. If you choose to not settle, and stay true to your needs, you will find it takes longer to recruit, but I promise you, it's worth the wait.
You might need to rethink what success looks like. Do Software Engineers really need to be good at Mathematics? Or have a Degree? Are all the best lawyers from Havard?
Continuously consider non-traditional candidates. Eventually, you will get into a state of flow where you are recruiting the same kind of candidates. Be wary to break this cycle, as it means you are becoming homogenous. Confusing? Put differently, occasionally break tradition.
It is famed that blind auditions can turn the table and allow diversity where none existed before. There are interview processes that focus on predicting real-world job performance. These tend to take the form of personality & value tests - psychometric tests.
They also tend to be expensive. But still worth the consideration if they deliver on balanced teams.
On Balanced Teams.
Focus on competency.
People make it happen. Strategies and visions are driven by people. So focus on getting the right people onboard. The right people tend to be competent, and they come in all shapes, sizes and colours.
Be intentional in your aspirations to get the right people to build balanced teams.