One of the most important opportunities one may have as a leader is either having the opportunity to have people added to a project team they are leading or even the role of making a team member hire. This can be both exciting and stressful. A right decision elevates the team and a wrong one can derail it. Most of the time it is a decision one can’t get back and once someone is in place, if they are not the right one, one will expend a great deal of time either trying to manage the problems created bring or having to prepare to remove them from the team. Bringing someone into a new team always has an element of a gamble to it as rarely someone comes in as a totally known variable. While every possible behavior and performance scenario can’t be anticipated prior to bringing someone in there are some concrete steps one may take to help gather the best information and make an informed decision.  

A simplified way to think through the process of determining if someone is the right person to add to the team is finding ways to concretely evaluate both fit and function. Here’s what I mean by those two categories. 

Fit: By fit one is needing to have a high confidence level regarding is this person’s ability to work within the existing personalities and the organizational expectations (both spoken and unspoken). This requires a true and realistic understanding of how the team functions on a daily basis. What are the functions where people work independently and where do they work collaboratively? How is information shared and how is help requested? What are the personality types that seem to drive the day-to-day culture? What are the annunciated organizational values and behaviors and what are the unexpected unspoken outcomes of these which shape the day-to-day functions? All of these factor into an ongoing culture of work. As the person bringing someone new into the team one needs a realistic view of this culture of work and if one wants the new person 1) to keep that culture, 2) push the boundaries of it, or 3) break aspects of it wants to change. Even if the person is the most competent for the role if they do not fit the desired state one has for how they fit into how the work gets done there are going to be some challenges to manage.  

Function: By function what one is looking for knowing if someone possesses the skill and competencies to do the role. The first (and often underprioritized) step is a crystal clear understanding of what the role is to do. Too often job descriptions do not capture, annunciate, and prioritize the needed work of the role well. It is vital to have these expectations captured and clearly communicated to the person being considered. If this does not happen the inevitable outcome is a misalignment in expectations resulting in either they are producing the wrong work or them being asked for different things than they understood they would be doing. Either of these leads to frustration for all parties.  

So, how might one best avoid the guesswork and move forward with reasonable confidence on both fit and function with an individual? The same approach on the format of the questions to ask will work for determining both fit and function. One’s interview and assessment process needs a high focus on what can be proven. This can be accomplished through questions based on prior experience and how they apply their life experiences to case studies. At the end of one’s time with a potential new team member ne wants to have clarity on how they would handle both work situations and personalities within the team. One can get a good picture of this by pulling out specific accomplishments they may note in their resumes and digging into how they did this. What challenges did they run into? What risks did they take? How did they measure success? These are all the type of questions one may dig into to get a feel for how this person approaches their work. This leads toward a higher confidence level they can do the work needed and fit with the other personalities. Note: Don’t dwell too much on what they share as success stories. Push them to share times when a project did not go well and find out how they handled this to get a feel for their resilience. 

As one builds a better understanding of someone’s past accomplishments (and failures) move toward giving them “how might you handle” types of questions. It is wise to consider giving them several case study types of situations as a pre-interview and go through it with them. Have a couple ready to also verbally process with them. The objective is for one to have these captured so well that one is in a position to move forward with candidates based on their proven skills and competencies (with both projects and people). Additionally, this also helps remove ones’ own inherent biases to overvalue a perceived potential someone has vs. what they can prove about their abilities. 

A strong process makes for a strong strategy. Adding people to the team is one of the most important decisions a leader makes and is no time to overvalue a perceived inherent sense of “I know a good person when I see one” mentality which many easily fall into. Moving forward with confidence means one has good and trustworthy information. The right process with the right questions plays a fundamental role in this. Every person who has the opportunity to bring people to the team should have an annunciated strategy in place to help them make the right choices to move the work of the team forward.