I find that these days there is always great emphasis on employees being ‘team players’. Now, I’m as keen as anyone else to ensure that my employees and associates all subscribe to the same ideals and values. An analogy I often use is that of passengers on a bus (with thanks to Jim Collins’ book Good to Great). Your team is the bus and it will only go in the direction you want it to go if the people on the bus are all the right people, sat on the right seats and all aiming in the same direction. That’s not to say that they should all be clones of one another – there’s always room in my view for individualism and maybe I’ll look at that in a later blog.

So how do you find out, when you’re recruiting a new employee, whether or not that person is a team player? Of course, you could ask, but this is one of those questions that is difficult to phrase without giving away what answer you’re looking for. And very few applicants are going to openly admit to not being a team player, because they’ll know, either from the advertised Personal Specification or from what you say, that that’s what you’re looking for.

A look at the applicant’s CV may give you some help – especially the section on interests outside work. I know many interviewers skip over this, feeling that it’s more important what an applicant has done in a work context, rather than how they spend their leisure time, but it can give valuable clues to their character. For example, do they participate in team sports, rather than individual disciplines like athletics? Do their hobbies bring them into contact with others? What proportion of their leisure time do they devote to helping others? You can learn a lot by asking them about their hobbies and interests. Please don’t overlook this!

Another relevant area is their previous work experience. If it’s not shown on the application, ask about any projects they completed or worked on, and bring the conversation round to assessing whether this was a team effort and, if it was, do they stress the achievements of the team, as well as their own contribution.

Above all, be clear in your own mind about what you mean by a team player and how this fits into your organisation and the role for which you’re recruiting. I’d say that a team player has the following skills and attributes:

  • identifies with a common set of values and aims
  • demonstrates awareness of what others are doing
  • is prepared to listen to the views of others and incorporate these into his/her own aims and tasks
  • does not ‘bulldozer’ his/her own view through
  • values the contribution of other team members
  • contributes to team success rather than just riding on the coat-tails of others
  • is willing to assist others as required
  • takes a pride in the team achievement as well as in his/her own contribution
  • understands that to be a cog in a larger wheel is as worthy a role as to be an individual success

What do you think? I’d love to hear your views.