Choose your team

Dec 14, 2015 · 5 min read

I went through several verbs before deciding on the right one for the title of this essay. Build? Create? Assemble? “Choose” was the obvious winner because I want to emphasize that a team is a group of individuals selected to work together, not a group you can mold from raw clay. Yes, building happens, but after the hiring. When you have no team, you have to choose carefully with whom you’ll work. When you have an existing team, you have to choose the individual who will work best within the chemistry of the team.

Here are four things to consider when choosing your team:

1. You have to get along

A good team isn’t comprised of all Type A personalities (and maybe not even all A players). We tend to think we want individuals who are always pushing themselves to do more and do it better. But those Type A personalities “are not good team players and rarely delegate work to others.” Type As clash with each other so we can rarely have more than one on a team. We have to mix in Type Bs who are non-competitive and “more tolerant of others… more relaxed than Type A individuals, more reflective, experience lower levels of anxiety and display higher level of imagination and creativity.”

I’ve worked with two managers who were excellent in their ability to select team members. Both of these individuals considered greatly not only the qualifications of a potential hire but his personality and how it would fit with the personalities on their existing teams. They trusted their guts. They sought an indescribable blend of hard and soft skills. Sometimes they needed a soft-spoken person, sometimes a direct one. They were picky.

The first manager was a Type A personality and, while we clashed on strategies, hours, and effort, I was a natural first choice for her team because I’m a solid Type B who had the right blend of experience. The Creative Director, a Type B himself, selected a Type A Traffic Manager to protect his creative team which was heavily Type B with a standout Type A.

It doesn’t all come down to a neat Type A / B test. Both of these managers would get a feel for a candidate in an interview and then bring in team members to judge for themselves. They relied on their team to say, “I can work with her.” It worked. They were the best teams I’ve ever worked on.

I’ve been hired for other gigs where no real consideration of the team was given. I was placed in a seat and neither myself nor the existing team members knew how to interact with one another. That leads to a longer gelling period during which the team doesn’t know whether to trust everyone.

I’ve also observed other situations where a manager attempts to squeeze in another body that’s simply indicated in the seating chart and doesn’t listen to what his team says is needed. If your team is clamoring for another developer, you shouldn’t try to force a project manager on them. When those hires who were championed only by the boss come in, they’re often blocked out by the team who requested a different position.

Personnel shouldn’t simply be hired by an impulsive manager before he learns whether the candidate will work with the team. Those thoughtful managers who consider more than just the hard skills on the resume will be rewarded with better work from their hires.

2. You have to trust everyone

This is the rule that goes along with “Give your employees autonomy” and “Get out of the way.” You chose the members of the team for good reasons. Let them do their work. Here’s how Fried and DHH put it in Remote: “If the company is full of people whom nobody trusts to make decisions without layers of managerial review, then the company is full of the wrong people.”

And (as if anyone needs another reminder that micro-managing is undesirable), you shouldn’t hire team members who have to be micro-managed. Micro-management is a form of distrust. If you trust each member of the team, you don’t have to stare over their shoulders. And if you’re staring over their shoulders, they’re going to think you don’t trust them.

3. It should be diverse

Another key to choosing a team is to make sure it is diverse in individuals’ backgrounds and experience. At an agency, you’re going to be working on projects for a variety of clients. A diverse team helps you cater to clients’ diverse needs. In-house, you need different voices to make sure you find new ways of solving problems. In the tech world, I’ve watched a lot of teams become homogenous which often streamlines production (since everyone agrees on the right methodology) but leads to a homogeneity of thought. Requests become “impossible” because they don’t fit the process. Solutions follow a singular line of thought.

They just aren’t open.

Plus, the diverse teams are just better to work on. Different educations, genders, ages, ethnicities, and experiences challenge the individuals on teams. We’re able to brainstorm in wild new ways to solve problems.

4. The right team members might not all live in the same state

Why are you overlooking awesome candidates just because you can’t roll your chair over to their desk? If you’re going to put this much care into finding the right individual to work on your team, why settle for someone simply because she’s local?

I’ve watched teams struggle through interviews with dozens of candidates, never finding the perfect fit. And the one limiting factor is that those teams only bring in local candidates. In the digital economy, and certainly when we’re building digital products, why are we so concerned with locality? The tools exist for us to work across time zones. If we’re building the future, let’s work like we live in the present.

Remote made the argument for remote work and explained the benefits far more capably than I can. What interests me is how remote work keeps us open. To choose your best team, you’re going to have to open up. You’re going to have to look everywhere.

Change your mind. Stop doing it the way you always have. Open your culture. And choose a great team.

Stories about doing better work by focusing on simplicity…

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I write about work, belief, music, and the politics of superheroes. Support my books and music at

Stories about doing better work by focusing on simplicity and openness. Stories about the bad work that is complex and closed.