Why You May Be Missing Out on Building Your Best Team
“It might sound crazy, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.” -Brent Boeckman
Throughout my career in talent development, I became known for my outlandish and sometimes downright crazy ideas. From juggling on the sales floor, to creating a company comic book, I’ve definitely been known to push the boundaries a few times.
Years ago I remember walking into work with a card game in hand. Our team all saw “that look” in my eyes which normally meant we were about to do something bold that they hadn’t done before. After about 30 minutes of discussion and questions, my Chief People Officer looked at me and said something to the effect of, “I love it, I just don’t know if we could sell this to the executive team.” To which I replied with, “It might sound crazy, but it doesn’t mean its wrong.” Laughter ensued, and from that day on if myself or anyone on my team came up with another crazy hasn’t-been-done-before-idea, then this phrase was the next thing said aloud.
As a kid I was constantly trying to do things a different way. I loved experimenting with dinner recipes, some to great success, others right to the trash can. I found myself rewriting rules for games to make them more entertaining or playable with less people, or taking apart things I had built only to immediately turn around and rebuild it again in a more efficient manner. This is who I am.
So naturally, when I stepped into the workforce, I was constantly trying new things. As a sales guy, my pitch was rarely the same until I found what worked. I tailored, reconstructed, and reformatted my language, style, body language- you name it. This led me to achieve top sales in the state, and I broke a record previously set by my brother in prior years.
Throughout the years, this became my calling card. I was bold, never afraid to take chances, and was always looking for a way to make something work better for everyone. Of course, this would lead me into training, building presentations, teaching others how to perfect their skills. It led me into coaching certifications, a change management accreditation, and many of my own entrepreneurial ventures.
So why am I telling you all of this? I believe that these people run the risk of being overlooked. They are seen as eccentric; their ideas are other-worldly. Simply put, they at times don’t fit the mold and are outside of the typical hiring profile.
When I first got into the talent development and learning field, I knew it was because what I had done up to that point had worked. I hadn’t just settled for what I had seen done before, but I took a chance on doing things differently. I had watched a sales team grow from 8 to 115 employee in under a year. I know because I was their trainer, facilitator, player coach, and mentor. I had scaled a business from 100 employees to over 400 with an 88% employee engagement and satisfaction rating, and helped build a company with a thriving culture. I knew that I needed a team to challenge the status-quo, to think boldly, to take risks. I knew that above all, I needed a team that would push each other to be great.
“Why we work determines how well we work, and culture shapes our why.” -Primed to Perform, by Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor
In the book Primed to Perform, by Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor, the authors walk through years of extensive research in behavioral science, searching for the answer to creating and then quantifying a high-performance team. Their research found that when the reasons we work are directly tied to the work itself, we perform better. If you have not read it, I urge you to add it to your reading list. It is absolute GOLD. I won’t spoil the book, but the first two things I look for when building a team come straight out of their research.
This isn’t an exact science and may not work for every industry, but it’s what I have used to make teams that shine. Years later my former colleagues and I still rely on each other, from thousands of miles away, to bounce ideas around and find creativity in our new roles. We often find ourselves reminiscing on how perfect we all worked together. It is because of some of those conversations recently that I felt inspired to share what has never let me down.
I look for people who clearly find the line of work they are applying for, fun. It’s enjoyable to them. Meaning, this isn’t a career chosen because it’s lucrative, or because they are following in their parent’s footsteps. It’s not a job they fell into accidentally and just ran with it.
What I’m looking for is the spark in their eyes that only comes when you have a deep love for what you do. Other than the twinkle in their eyes, what I am looking for is passion in their answers. Excitement in the solutions, and an ability to be playful with their work. People who exhibit play in their work are the same people who will be at an Escape Room event for their birthday and a week later will find a way to work it into a culture-day activity during the new hire journey at their career. (This is a true story of one of my team members.)
Inversely to this, I am also looking for signs that there isn’t play in their work. Over exaggeration to point out deadlines met and objectives successfully completed, without an emphasis on the journey. Not to say these aren’t important, but someone who can complete those objectives and deadlines AND find enjoyment and play in the process, will find a story to tell. Simply put, they will focus on the experience and less on the outcome.
There is a purpose greater than themselves for the work they do. These people have decided that a career in our field is a worthwhile venture, because personally their motives are tied to being able to drive positive outcomes for the people they support or the organization they are building.
For purpose, I’m looking deep into the why of their projects. I want to hear that people aren’t just focused on their career aspirations, but that they are driven by creating solutions for the greater organization or the people they serve. Talent is a selfless job, it is completely built for and dependent on those they serve so finding people who not only align with that philosophy, but are personally motivated by it, is a good early sign. People driven by these motives will often stand up for the people they are building for just as they would a sibling or a spouse. The ability to challenge a project’s motives or merits because of how it will affect the recipient is a clear-cut good sign.
Things I watch out for in this regard are people who have aligned their purpose only with the work itself. These individuals quickly lose sight of the client in the creation phase, or sometimes leave them out entirely, and focus too heavily on just the project during the interview.
This is also in the book I referenced earlier, however for the sake of this article potential is more about career growth. I look for someone who is not necessarily looking for growth themselves, or are aspiring to my role one day, but have greatness in them and could move into a supporting managerial role, or eventually be my successor. Potential looks a lot like ambition and the ability to take the lead without being asked.
I look for individuals who are hand-raisers. Hand-raisers are those driven individuals who don’t wait for someone else to take the lead. They show up as project leads in school assignments, people who have volunteer experience, or people who have hobbies that require discipline or long-term commitments. For me, I want to find someone who is seeking out more in the world, in whatever capacity that means for them. This skill to me shows a willingness to be a part of, or lead, something greater than themselves.
What I try to avoid are those who clearly “stay in their lane” or have very generic experiences with the work on their resume. It could be argued that maybe the person is just shy, or intimidated. Sure, that is possible, but that is also a clear indicator that they are not the kind of person I want to grow within our team. They will probably be less likely to challenge an idea, push their team members, and be bold, which takes me to my next trait.
Boldness looks like many things, but in particular I am looking for people who are willing to debate a topic, who will go out of their way to research or prove a point, and who will challenge their team members – all in a productive and effective manner. I don’t want argument for the sake of argument, but it’s important to have a room full of diverse thinking and differences. At a past company, many times our team would schedule a 2-hour brainstorm on our upcoming goals, that would quickly turn into a 4-hour meeting, or a few follow up meetings. The engagement and discussion drove us to places we never knew we would be when we started. These discussions have created culture-day events, new ways of building training curriculum, clever swag for events, and projects that have saved our organization hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I look for people who have done things differently, but who can also have a discussion on a topic during the interview process and can get me to think about something differently. I look for someone who shows a willingness to say, “I think you’re wrong” in a meaningful and respectful way. These people naturally don’t shy away from conversation and debate, morals and philosophy. In fact, they often lean into those conversations.
The inverse here is simple: they don’t engage in the conversation past the questions asked by either them or me. They don’t want to challenge me, even if I purposely bring up something that might not be the best way to do it. If given a scenario during the interview and asked how they would handle the same thing we did, they don’t challenge our idea, they simply go along with it.
Creativity is vital in our line of work. Budgets aren’t where we’d like them to be, or we’re asked to solve cancer with chewing gum and a toothpick. (Thanks MacGyver.) If you’re not careful, the talent organization can easily get looped into projects too late and is often an afterthought. In these circumstances, you need people who can think outside the box, or throw it away entirely. People who can get scrappy and resourceful as a form of creativity.
What I am also looking for with creativity is an ability to design a polished finished product. Too many times in my career have I seen a generic PowerPoint presentation passed off as “training” without any thought to design, or storytelling ability. When this happens retention plummets, and the opportunity you have to really wow your client groups diminishes.
What I look for here is a background in design, someone who is artistic in their personal lives, or even in their hobbies. It is so vital that the work we produce be striking and engaging, increase retention and inspire people to lean in. A recent example of this was an idea a team member had to use Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader as our Do/Do Not want for profiles when creating interview training. Months later, managers were still referring to candidates as Jedi’s or “of the dark side”. A little creativity can go a long way.
What I try to avoid are examples of work that looks like everything else I’ve seen. Projects or work that lacks any polish, visually or flow related. Often times I will ask people what their creative process is and given the depth of response you can pretty quickly pick up on whether they are or are not thinking from that space.
So, what am I getting at here? Well for starters, be willing to take a chance on someone who doesn’t fit the technical profile you’re looking for. Skills can be taught, but the traits described above are more innate and as such are harder to acquire over time. The people who shine in all of the above have the gift of storytelling, a way of captivating you and drawing you in. It’s vital to gaining buy-in, increasing retention of content, and developing a culture that can sustain struggles that all organizations face. These are the people who, when given the opportunity to have a hand in the greater picture of building a place where employees can thrive, will deliver something truly spectacular. It has for me.