Forget the “unicorn”—hiring a superstar or two won’t magically make your business goals materialize. In fact, that’s the problem with traditional hiring practices: they’re overly focused on individuals.
Conventional hiring methods don’t encourage strong team-building and collaboration, though managers acknowledge that this is essential to organizational success. Writing at Work Futures, Rachel Mendelowitz sums up the problem:
“We want people to collaborate cross-functionally and perform well on teams, but people are individually hired and individually compensated…. In short, the way we’ve set up our workforce drives a marketplace that pits individuals against one another, yet we are constantly encouraging them to collaborate and work together to innovate and drive results.”
And that individualized focus is to the detriment of any organization’s capabilities and potential. Why? Because great teams outperform great individuals by far.
Individual Performance vs. Team Performance
Some of the most interesting research on this topic came out of a computer programming course at Yale University.
Professor Stanley Eisenstat and Joel Spolsky (founder of Fog Creek Software and Stack Exchange and also a former student of Eisenstat’s) analyzed data from several years of Eisenstat’s programming class to see if there was any correlation between time spent on a project and grade earned. Contrary to their expectations, there wasn’t: among students who earned top grades, there were a mix of fast and slow workers, and the fast ones outpaced the slow by 10 times.
How does this relate hiring high-performing candidates? In the business world, specifically the tech industry, these findings have been translated into a popular hiring catchphrase: “the 10x developer.” This term applies the Yale study research to the (much-debated) idea that some developers and engineers are 10x more productive than average—the implication being that everyone should want to hire this type of high-achieving person.
But as anyone who’s ever gone through the process of searching for new hires or sourcing talent knows, there’s no perfect candidate—and not only is competition fierce for the best talent, but adding one top performer to an underperforming team isn’t a surefire solution for improvement.
Is there a better approach? The authors of Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time suggest that there is—and that companies are approaching hiring from the wrong perspective. The book cites research studies that have looked at team performance in the same way that the Yale study looked at differences in individual performance.
You might think the difference would be similar, that the fastest, top-performing teams are about 10 times more productive than their slower counterparts. However, the data from studying roughly 3,800 projects in various fields ranging from accounting to software development indicates that the difference is much, much greater: up to 2,000 times. To put it in perspective, work that a fast team could complete in one week might take the slowest team 2,000 weeks.
In their chapter on teams, the authors of Scrum pose the following questions:
“So where should you focus your attention? At the level of the individual, where you might be able to get an improvement of ten times if you can magically make all your employees geniuses? Or at the team level, boosting productivity by an enormous magnitude even if you merely make your worst teams mediocre? Of course, aiming for mediocrity will get you just that. But what if you could make all your teams great?”
Why Hiring Teams Is Good for Productivity
So what’s the takeaway from this research? That the potential for top-performing teams is much greater than that of top-performing individuals.
London Business School professor Gary Hamel echoes this conclusion, telling HR Magazine that managers and other hiring professionals need to ask themselves, “How do I aggregate talent and create an environment where we can do more collectively than we could ever do on our own?"
Entrepreneur Avichal Garg has considered that question in leading his own companies. Based on his experience co-founding two successful startups, he argues that a great team isn’t just based on a collection of skills or abilities. Just as important is whether members inspire and enable their teammates to be better and do more—this is the secret sauce fueling those rare teams that accomplish extraordinary things every time they’re together.
Here are several types of employees that can contribute to an efficient team that works together seamlessly, based on Garg’s suggestions:
- The leader: this person sets a high standard for the rest of the team; her/his primary contribution is technical ability
- The hustler: this person challenges the status quo, thinks outside the box, and gets things done, challenging others to do the same; her/his primary contribution is productivity/innovation
- The go-getter: this person is highly motivated, never gives up, and encourages everyone else to be more focused and driven; her/his primary contribution is grit/determination
- The teacher: this person is a quick learner who easily absorbs information and communicates relevant points with others to help them do their job better; her/his primary contribution is teaching ability
- The truth-teller: this person asks hard questions and points out problems without rudeness or malice, encouraging honesty and transparency in others; her/his primary contribution is honesty/sincerity
- The dynamo: this person always gives 100% and has unflagging energy and enthusiasm, inspiring others to work harder and have a better attitude; her/his primary contribution is a strong work ethic
- The heart: this person keeps the team connected, encouraged, and feeling appreciated, taking an interest and people’s lives and making the work environment pleasant and welcoming; her/his primary contribution is charisma
It’s the right combination of people that enables maximum productivity, not an individual who can “do it all.” But hiring a team like this requires approaching the process with the end in mind, building a team of individuals who each offer a blend of character traits that complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
The Qualities of a Top-Performing Team
If businesses do decide to hire a team, what should they look for? We’ve just reviewed some of the types of individuals that can contribute to an effective team, but what about qualities that the team should have as a whole? Let’s look at some important considerations, based on the Scrum framework:
- Goal-oriented: teams need a common purpose that equips them to perform at their best and gives them a path to success
- Autonomous: teams need to be empowered to self-manage, make decisions, and work how they work best, with the freedom to decide how to meet the goals set by leadership
- Cross-functional: teams need the right combination of skills to complete their work; individual members should complement and reinforce each other
Team-Based Hiring in Action
Out of frustration with traditional methods, Stripe, a payments startup, decided to pattern its hiring practices after the way people work best: in teams. In April 2016, the company introduced a new hiring initiative called Bring Your Own Team (or BYOT).
In a blog post introducing the initiative, Stripe encouraged job seekers to apply with “people who motivate and inspire you, complement your strengths and shore up your weaknesses, help you achieve things you could never do on your own.” Teams of up to six people can apply together, going through group office visits, group interviews, and even collaborating on a problem-solving challenge.
Stripe’s CEO, Patrick Collison, acknowledged in an interview with Quartz that typical Silicon Valley–style interviewing processes leave room for improvement: “They overweight SATs and [grades], when even weighing them at all is a bad idea. What we underweight is the perspective of someone’s teammate.”
Here at Crossover, we assemble teams of top-performing engineers and developers, pre-vetted and custom-built to clients’ specifications. For example, when Neil Patel came to Crossover looking for more developers for his startup Hello Bar, he had already tried both in-house and outsourced teams (at least 12 all told), none of which was able to meet his goals.
Patel signed up for a free trial to try out a development team before hiring. The results? The Crossover team exceeded all six goals he had set and tripled productivity levels compared to his existing team—all in less than a month.
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