Building High Performance Teams (1 of 3)

How to Attract and Select the Best

I have built fantastic teams three times so far in my career and have experimented with various techniques, methods and strategies to do so. Some have worked well and while others not as much. I also learned a great deal observing design leaders that I worked for, especially Tim Parsey and Shashank Deshpande.

I was recently asked to present to a group of managers my thoughts on how to build high performing teams, and this gave me an opportunity to think back and reflect on what worked and what did not. This series of 3 articles is a shorter version of the 2 hr course I conducted at the manager forum. By no means is this a comprehensive set of techniques and strategies, but some that helped me most.


There are three parts to the story

1. How to Attract and Select the Best.

2. How to Motivate Individuals

3. Winning as a team: build a culture where these motivated individuals work together towards a shared goal


This article covers Part 1: Attracting and Selecting the Best

1.1 Employment Brand

It is easier to attract talent if you are hiring for Facebook, Google or Tesla’s of the world, who have what I call a powerful “Employment Brand”. Most others are not that lucky, either because the organization is not well known or not well known for the function for which you are hiring. As a leader and manager you need to invest in creating a strong Brand for your team. Participating in conferences and college campus activities like recruitment, projects, internships is a good way to go. Having an online presence for your team via blogging, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, where you can showcase the talent and the exciting work your team does will go a long way in attracting talent.

At Yahoo, I was responsible for setting up the Design Associate Program. It was a great way to connect with students from top design schools in US and help build your Brand.

1.2 Interviewing a Candidate

Many managers do not take the interview process seriously. Think about it. On an average, depending on the level of hire, you get 2–4 hrs of interaction with a candidate you hope to hire and work with for years to come. It is very important to put in preparation, effort and conscious thought into the interview process. Here are a few tips on how to run a perfect interview

a.) Prepare: An interview candidate puts in a lot of investment in preparing for the interview. It is only fair that you are well prepared yourself. Make sure you understand the job requirements, especially if you are interviewing a candidate for another hiring manager. List the top competencies you would want to evaluate the candidate for. Note that the key word here is competencies, not skills. Skill is acquired knowledge that leads to predictable outcome, while competency is a combination of skills, behaviors, commitments and more that lead to a consistently superior performance. The ability to code in Java is a skill while ability to learn a new coding language quickly is a competency. Always hire candidates based on their competencies and not for their technical skills.

Amazon has identified key leadership principles that they evaluate candidates on and expect them to live by while working in Amazon.

Should you do a web search for a candidate before the interview? Its debatable and I advise not to do so. View into candidates social and personal life might bias your evaluation of his/her professional capabilities. However, LinkedIn these days is the new resume. Looking up a candidates LinkedIn profile, technical publications or patent filings could provide valuable insights.

b.) Running an interview: Start by making the candidate comfortable with some casual talk. Having done so, jump right into evaluating the candidate for the competencies you have identified. It is important that you drive the interview agenda based on your preparation and not have the resume drive the interview. Unprepared interviewers tend to look for keywords or hooks in a resume and questions based on that. The right way to drive an interview is to use what I refer to as competency funnels .

For every competency you want to evaluate the candidate on, start with broad open questions asking the candidate examples from the past to demonstrate a given competency. Identify hooks in their response to probe deeper asking further detail. Continue untill you have made a judgement of the candidates competency. Then move on to evaluate the next competency using the same method. A competency funnel helps you systematically gather details, gather evidence and gather confidence to make the right judgement.

c.) Common Pitfalls

We vs You : Often candidates respond to a question with “We did this …” . Its always good to stop the candidate and ask what was the specific role he or she played.

Interviewer talks more than listens: Interviewers in their enthusiasm to tell how much they know or to correct the candidate, often end up speaking a lot more than they should. Remember, we are here to judge the candidate, not to show off our knowledge. Resist the urge to correct or explain. Make a judgement and move on.

No Hypothetical Questions: Response to hypothetical question will tell you if the candidate knows the theory, but won’t guarantee if it has been practiced by the candidate. Neither will they allow you seek details and go deeper in to the competency funnel

Bias: Interviewers often are biased towards candidates that are “like them”. Like them could mean from the same school, ethnicity, having similar interests outside work and so on. Similarly “not like me” could lead to a negative bias. One needs to consciously filter out their own biases.

Better than me: This one is particularly important. Managers are reluctant to hire people who they think are smarter than themselves. Laszlo Bock, SVP of HR at Google in his book “Work Rules” argues that we should always hire people smarter than ourselves. If your hire mediocre people, they in turn will hire even more mediocre people and the overall organization will suffer.

d.)Culture fit: Use opportunities during the interview to check if the candidate will fit into your team culture and shares the same values. Is the candidate open to ideas? Does the candidate share credit where necessary? Ask them some tough or intimidating questions and see how they react. Here is a great article by Amy Zimmerman and Jennifer Richard, listing 5 “Curveball questions” that can help reveal a candidates personality

e.)Sell the opportunity

Lastly, use the opportunity to sell the job and your company to the candidate. Show the candidate around the campus, get him to meet your team and also take him to lunch in your cafeteria. Do this even if you do not intend to make an offer to the candidate. The candidate is sure to refer your organization to his friends . This is part of building your “Employment brand”.

Building High Performing Teams starts with hiring the right people and


Also read

Part 2: Motivating Individuals

Coming up soon

Part 3: Winning as a team