Want Collaborative Teams? Hire Collaborative People.
If you want persistent, high-quality collaboration in the workplace, you need people who possess the skill sets, mindsets and dispositions that favor collaboration. You must attract, hire and retain collaborative people.
“At the heart of our organization — and central to our success — is a team of people who pull up towards shared purpose, align around values, and are grounded in competencies,” explained Marcella Kanfer Rolnick, executive chair of Gojo Industries, the company that makes Purell brand hand sanitizer. “There are certain core competencies that everyone at Gojo must possess. Collaboration is one of them.”
Here are four practices that can help you fill your bench with people who are able, willing and even eager to work together.
Be Selectively Attractive
You don’t need — or want — to appeal to everyone. You want to attract the right people. This means you can and should signal collaboration as a core value out of the gate. The people who resonate with those signals will draw closer, while others will be pushed away.
Amy Oviedo, CEO of Recruiting Experiences, advises her clients to add core values to job descriptions across all roles. To signal collaboration, that language might include “demonstrates leadership in collaborative teams,” or “has the ability to collaborate effectively within diverse groups.”
Oviedo recommends continuing to use collaborative and team-focused language in communication throughout the candidate experience. For example, she offered the following as an automated application response: “Thank you for your application to our organization. Our team works in a collaborative manner and will consider your application carefully. This may take a bit of extra time so please expect to hear back from one of our team members within two weeks.”
Screen for Competencies
The interview is your chance to screen for collaborative competencies.
Oviedo suggests using repeatable, behavior-based questions in all interviews. “In the same way that you could evaluate Excel skills by asking ‘Tell me about the last project you completed using Excel,’” she said, “you can ask, ‘Tell me about the last project you completed that required a high degree of collaboration’.”
Gojo leans heavily on what it calls “learning from experience” interviewing to screen for competencies, Kanfer Rolnick explained. When assessing a candidate’s ability to collaborate, Gojo’s recruiters might ask, “Tell us about a time when you had to work with people very different from yourself to drive to an outcome with speed.” They ask follow up questions such as: How did you approach it? What alternatives did you consider but reject and why? What happened? What did you learn from that experience? In hindsight, what would you do differently? How have you applied those learnings since?
Importantly, she explained, “We're not looking for success stories. We’re looking for self-awareness, and an orientation to learning as candidates tell stories about their career.”
Engage in Simulation
Candidates who pass the screening interview can then be invited to a simulation or demonstration experience. The big idea here, said Oviedo, is to determine how a candidate interacts within a team and whether they’re open to diversity of thought in conversation.
How to Future-Proof Your Employee Experience Strategy in 2023
A framework to navigate through economic uncertainty
The Essential Role of Communicators in Fostering Wellbeing in the Digital Workplace
Join us for practical insights on how digital communicators can support employees to thrive in the digital workplace
Addressing Employee Needs and Wants with a Digital Workplace
The workplace is getting more and more digital – both in how we work and where we work
Maintaining a Human-Centered Approach During Digital Transformation
When it comes to digital transformation - people drive change, not technology
The Evolution of Employee Recognition
Leveraging the power of appreciation to improve the employee experience
How to Build a More Innovative and Resilient Workplace Culture
What would happen if every member of your team came to work focused on finding solutions and creating better results?
As Kanfer Rolnick pointed out, a well-constructed simulation provides essential two-way learning. First, the interview team gets to see if candidates are able to engage in healthy debates to get to the best answer rather than only to advocate their answer.
Equally important, she said, the candidate “gets to learn about our culture. If they’re uncomfortable in our dialogue-rich environment, then they’re not going to be happy on the team.”
Listen to Language
Throughout the recruitment process, pay close attention to the language candidates use.
For example, does the candidate’s resume suggest that they individually recruited one million new customers to their previous company’s platform? Or, does it say “lead an interdisciplinary team of four that attracted 1 million new customers in 10 months”? The language in the latter example suggests a stronger collaborative orientation. “It’s as simple as noting ‘I’ vs ‘we’ language,” Kanfer Rolnick said.
During the interview process, look for candidates who give credit where credit is due by, for example, noting how others’ contributions helped move an initiative forward. Or, as a negative indicator, do they blame others for the team’s failures?
Oviedo noted, “I also find that the questions candidates ask in the process provide a look at their key motivations. Did they ask about the team, the types of projects, remote/hybrid work, or any other factors that might indicate collaboration is a shared value with the organization?”
If you want to create the conditions for collaboration to thrive, take an enterprise-wide approach by instituting these practices throughout the organization, Kanfer Rolnick said. “You really have to connect intention with practice.”
Learn how you can join our contributor community.
About the Author
Dr. Deb Mashek, PhD is an experienced business advisor, professor, higher education administrator, and national nonprofit executive.