Saturday, August 9, 2014

Learning how to hire #5: is team building a science?

As my team grows I have been fretting not only about finding the best people, but finding the best people who are compatible with each other. I stumbled on a 2-year old Harvard Business Review article discussing the science of building a productive team and I thought "Science? I can do that!"

By assigning devices recording daily employee activities scientists discovered that communication across all team members is one of the most important factors for team productivity, as it is finding people with the right qualities to join the team. Team members must communicate with each other and with management often, the more they communicate outside of formal meetings and the more they "gel" with each other, the better performance gets. I love sitting in my office and hearing them chit-chat and laugh out there, because it means they are happy and they are comfortable in the lab...and if they are comfortable in the lab, in the lab they stay as long as they need to. Also if they are comfortable with each other, it is easier to ask for help and to collaborate. With a really small lab and no lunch room on the floor, we have all been having lunch in my office which is often a chance to just talk about random things. As the lab gets bigger, it will become more difficult to fit everyone in there, so I'll need to figure something out to make sure the new people are included in the group.

The HR Council in Canada has a great page with suggestions for building a productive team from how to develop a team to understanding group dynamics in order to defuse problems. My main concern at the moment is to find people who will get along. I am assembling two small teams for two projects and based on team-work experiences from previous labs I want to make sure things run smoothly: personalities have to fit and roles have to be well defined, so that conflicts can be resolved when they arise. Because conflict will come one way or another and the worst possible thing it to ignore it and let it sit there and fester. One of the best suggestions of this Forbes article on how leaders can deal with conflict is to view conflict as an opportunity for team building and for innovation. I had never thought about the possibility of leveraging conflict, but it totally makes sense and makes it sound less scary.

Usual HR advice is not to hire yourself and not to base hiring on personality, but qualifications for the job. While I do agree with the not hiring yourself over and over again because variety in the work place is actually quite nice, I do think personality if very important and I think that it should be matched to the project at hand. There are experiments that can accommodate a mercurial and innovative mind and there are others that require a careful and methodical approach. I have funding for both, and I think that finding people who will naturally gravitate towards one or the other may be more productive than trying to push someone who likes diversity on a repetitive task.

As the lab grows in the next two months I'll have my work cut out for me.
For more "Learning how to hire" posts and other management tips, go to my Management page.

Image credit: Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept, lumaxart, Wikimedia Commons


  1. Building rapport with your co-workers in a fun way is actually great for teams or for company employees, in general. Though professional doings are expected from an employee, an enjoyable relationship with your co-workers could also be a catalyst for people to perform better at work. Anyway, thanks for sharing this topic with us. All the best!

    Jay Hastings @ London Business Games

  2. Team members must communicate with each other and with management often, the more they communicate outside of formal meetings and the more they "gel" with each other,