Kid Dessert: Recruiting for Team Chemistry & Culture

One of the biggest fallacies in recruiting is to look for someone who is the best candidate for a position. 

I say this because when the focus is on the position and the job description, you begin to look for people who may be all-stars as individuals, but toxic to teams. Most successful teams have that “glue” member, that may not be a superstar, but without them the team would surely crumble. Oddly though, despite recognizing the importance of this type of role-player, we rarely (if ever) recruit for them. Why is that? Well, generally speaking it’s much easier to identify superstar performers than it is to identify great facilitators. The metrics are clearer, the outputs are more commonly recognized across the industry, and frankly, it’s hard to get an accurate “glue feel” from someone in an interview setting—even if it’s a lengthy interview gauntlet. 

So what happens? We get what we hire—an all-star team. The sports metaphors relating to work teams are plentiful, but for those who may not be as sports-minded, I offer another metaphor:

We create kid dessert. 

When you’re a child (unless you’re one of the kids on Master Chef Junior), you don’t really understand how ingredients & flavors work together in a dish. You don’t understand portions. You don’t understand that the order of adding ingredients matters. All you know is what you like to eat for dessert. You love tiramisu. You love skittles. You love sour patch kids. You love Reeses cups. So, as a kid, a dessert that has ALL the things you like sounds like heaven on a plate! So when given access to the kitchen with these ingredients, that’s likely what you’d try to create. 

Now, as an adult, you would never consider throwing them all into one dessert. In fact, you probably even gagged a little as you read that last part, imagining how awful that would’ve tasted. This is because you know that just because some foods are delicious separately, that doesn’t mean they’ll be good (or even edible) all together. You instinctively recognize that some flavors work well together and others don’t, and that different desserts call for different sets of ingredients. Sometimes too much of a good thing is a bad thing—and this is often what happens when we try to assemble superstar teams of high-performers. We imagine that adding them all to the same team will mean that they will somehow become some sort of Voltron robot that kicks competitors' asses and leads us to victory, when in reality it's more likely you’re just making kid dessert. 

The lesson here? While it may take a lot more work to develop good, useful evaluation methods for finding “glue,” it’s worth investing the effort in the long run. The most effective recruiters in the next decade will be the ones who are empowered to spend enough time both inside and outside the office with their assigned teams that they know what “ingredient” is missing, possibly even before the team does. Stop taking the shortcut and strictly adhering to the same old processes and interview tactics. Be bold and get busy cooking! 

Photo Credit: Leonard Towers