Michael needs to hire a new employee, and of course he is looking for the skills and experience that are specific to the role. However the overriding trait that Michael looks for in all his employees is being a team player.

The reason for this focus is twofold: first, Michael’s business has a family style, warm and informal atmosphere, where a can-do, supportive attitude is essential. Second, Michael recently had to let two employees go in succession, and both for the same reason: the employees were talented and skilled, but they just were not team players.

Michael is justifiably concerned about avoiding the same mistake in his future hires. But how should he go about the process to ensure that his new employee is indeed a team player?

Don’t be blinded by talent

If team player personalities are essential to your company or organization’s success, be careful not be dazzled by outstanding performers who “just” lack a team player style. Often a candidate that has tremendous talent and experience can overshadow one with less pizzazz who is a natural team player. Of course we all want the candidate who has it all, but every hire is about making choices and setting your priorities. If hiring a team player is a top priority, makes sure stand firm behind that requirement. You will not regret it.

Team player interview questions

 Asking the right questions is essential if you want to find out if the person you are interviewing has team player DNA. Here are some good examples:

Tell me about a time you disagreed with your colleagues about how to accomplish a task. Hearing the candidate discuss a professional disagreement and how it was resolved (or not) can be very telling. If you listen carefully and ask the right follow up questions (what did you do/say? How did they respond? What happened next?), you will be able to learn how your candidate relates to others, how s/he approaches group work, and what s/he considers a collaborative success. If you are looking for a team player, watch out for blaming others for failures, a tendency to exclude others from decision making, and difficulty delegating.

What did you enjoy most about your last job / what is the most important thing you are seeking in a new position?

A team player will usually mention the team and work relationships in response to these kinds of questions. Someone who is less of a team player will be more likely to respond to this kind of question by focusing on opportunities for development and advancement, or the ability to conduct their work independently.

Team player reference checks

When you conduct reference checks (more about reference checking here), make sure to ask questions that will reflect the candidates’ team player skills. Don’t ask, is Sarah a team player?  A reference will prefer to say yes to such a direct question, since saying no would sound negative, and they will be invested in giving Sarah a positive reference. Instead, ask more neutral questions, such as: Would you say Sarah is more of an independent worker or more of a group or team kind of person? Can you give me an example?

Team player testing

Almost every professional skill can be tested during the interview process, either at the interview itself or through additional tasks or testing. Team player DNA is no exception. If this quality is essential for the job you want to fill, create interview test situations that will show you that side of the candidate. For example, if appropriate, you might want to have the candidate work on a short term project (for which they would be paid) together with a team member; or you might want to present hypothetical professional challenges during the interview that the candidate would be expected to role play together with a team member or the interviewer.

Show your appreciation!

If you have had negative experiences hiring or working with people who are not natural team players, you recognize the value of team player DNA. So besides using the tips above to make sure to hire more team players, remember to show your existing team players how much you value them.

Team players are often overlooked for recognition, promotions or raises because they credit “the team” for their successes and justly appreciate everyone’s contribution. Since those are precisely the reasons you are happy with these employees, make sure that they know how much they are valued. Give them verbal appreciation and concrete recognition for their work. Keeping your existing team players happy will ensure that you don’t need to continually seek out more of them, and will also solidify and deepen the trust and good fellowship among your team.