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How misperception about teams damages hiring success

Welcome to Talent Talk. Here, you’ll find a collection of thought leadership articles from industry experts in the recruitment and HR tech space.

If you put great people together, you have built a great team.

Well, I wish it was that easy, but unfortunately, that’s not how it works when building your team. You can get the greatest individuals on board who, working together as a team, will provide you with the poorest results. While living in the 21st century, our HR and hiring mindset goes way back, stimulating us to focus on individuals rather than teams. The result: poor hiring decisions and underperforming teams. Here’s why. 

The common denominator

When looking at the mindset that a lot of HR/Talent Leaders are still having, there’s one common denominator: The focus on individuals over teams. Let’s think about it. We hire individuals. Most feedback we provide is individual. We promote individuals. Even turnover, although the number is often a company average, is most often discussed from an individual’s perspective rather than a team result. We hire people to bring a company from A to B, but along this route leading us to B, we tend to only look at individual progress.  

To stick with the from-A-to-B-metaphor, focusing on individual movement isn’t the smartest move if you’re willing to reach B, because we’re not always running a marathon collectively. We often find ourselves in a relay race without being aware of the fact that we depend on the people before or after us, without being aware of the fact that reaching B is only possible when doing this together.

The sum of individual performances

We only want the very best people in our teams. Cause let’s be honest, you would never choose for average if you can go for excellent. The mistake we’re making here, however, is that we measure excellence using the same metrics for all people working in a specific area in our company. 

Let’s say you have three absolutely talented engineers. And tall three master the same skill sets. Separately these engineers are, without a doubt, amazing. But let’s imagine that you’re now putting them together in a team with just the three of them, providing them with a critical problem to solve. 

Here you are with the three smartest minds in the room. It’s likely that they will overperform in certain aspects of this challenge that align with their skill sets. In other aspects, however, they will likely underperform as a result of collectively lacking the skills or personality traits required to complete this task.

Their individual performances might be amazing, but the sum of individual performances isn’t always equal to team performance because these individual performances might not collectively represent the ideal team composition.

How this damages our hiring success

Team Composition is the combination of skills, competencies, and personality traits that your team collectively represents. This mindset, however, is the exact opposite of our traditional mindset in which we tend to focus on the individual. And that makes hiring scary. Cause how to know for sure that this excellent engineer in your talent pool will also turn out to be excellent in your team? 

Our traditional mindset is a huge fan of the copy-paste-effect in hiring, meaning that we keep trying to copy-paste one of our top performers. Because hey, if they’re a top-performer in my team, I’d better find three look-alikes if I want to play it safe. The reality, however, proves us wrong, because with every look-alike hire we’re adding to the team, our team will collectively perform less.

A team isn’t the sum of individuals. It’s the right mix of individuals. It’s about looking for different characteristics in different people.

How aligning your team composition with your hiring strategy equals group performance

I hope that, at this point, you start realizing (if you didn’t already) that a team isn’t the sum of individuals. It’s the right mix of individuals. It’s about looking for different characteristics in different people rather than willing to tick a fixed 50% of the boxes for all people.

With this in mind, your hiring strategy might need some adjustments as well. Here’s what will change:

  1. Hiring needs are a translation of team needs rather than business needs;
  2. The Ideal Candidate Profile is a result of missing characteristics in the team rather than only proven characteristics of top-performers;
  3. Team composition needs are defined based on team goals rather than individual goals.

I know this might still sound a bit vague, so let’s provide you with a final example and some food for thought. 

Let’s say I’m hiring a Product Team to draft, build, and maintain a new product module. I know that to realize these plans, I need to build a team that masters the following skills: creative thinking, planning ability, task prioritizing, logical reasoning, flexibility, ownership, and accuracy. And luckily enough I have already found two engineers, mastering 60% of these skills. Now, ‘all’ I need to do is look for a Product Owner and one more engineer who, together, master the other 40% of these skills. Et voilà. I just built the perfect team composition to translate my plans into actual milestones. All I needed to do was determine the needs of my team, analyze the skills I already had, and search for the skills that I was lacking. 

That’s the power of teams. Or actually the power of mixing individuals rather than copy-pasting them. And the coolest sidenote: There are plenty of tools out there who can help you with this, including the tool that my amazing team is building, because they master the right skill sets collectively to do so. You can check it out on our website. 

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