Interview Question to be used in your whole life to assess candidate teamwork skills


I learned long ago that I could never overcome a flawed emotional decision by a hiring manager without lots of facts. Here’s the short version of the questioning process I developed that ensure everyone has the right facts.

For this exercise, imagine that I’m actually interviewing you, and after reviewing your LinkedIn profile I ask you the following:

Q: Please give me a short overview of the biggest team project you’ve lead or participated in, including when it happened, the purpose of the team, and the results achieved. A cross-functional project would be best for this, if possible.

Now I’d like a few more details.

  • What were the biggest challenges the team faced?

  • How was the team organized and selected, and what was your exact role on the team?

  • Why were you selected for the team and who selected you?

  • Walk me through the biggest team problems and how they were resolved. What was your role in this?

  • What was the plan, was the plan achieved, and what role did you play in ensuring the plan was met?

  • Give me some examples of where people sought you out for advice and where you sought others out for advice?

  • What aspects of the project stressed you the most? The least?

  • Summarize your personal successes and failures as part of this team project.

  • How would you rank your performance on the team on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best? What could you have done differently to be one point better?

  • How did you grow as a person as a result of being on this team?

  • Did you receive any personal recognition from others as part of being on this team?

After about 15 minutes of fact-finding like this, what team skills would an interviewer have learned about you based on just this one project? Now imagine over the course of the interviewing process you were asked this same question for two to three other team projects covering the past 5 to 10 years of your career. What else would have been learned?

How to Assess the Answer?

Specifically, I look for the following to determine team skills and fit with the actual requirements of the job:

  1. The growth in terms of the size and importance of the teams the person has been assigned.

  2. Growth over time in the person’s role and influence. For this I’m looking for more involvement at the strategy and planning level, and more cross-functional decision-making.

  3. The makeup of the teams in comparison to the teams the person is likely to lead and participate on in the new role.

  4. The underlying pace of the organization and the stress the team is under to achieve results (e.g. a personal handling a turnaround or rapid change is a much different role than someone on a team in a large organization).

  5. Who the person has influenced with specific focus on the level of the person (ie. Peers, subordinates, superiors, executives, outside consultants, and vendors).

  6. The overall success of the team projects and the candidate’s role in achieving this.

For the most accurate assessments, it’s best to have a number of different interviewers ask the basic team accomplishment question for different team projects and then share their evidence in a formal debriefing session. This increases the likelihood that all perspectives are considered.

It’s difficult to overcome an emotional reaction to a candidate based on first impressions, enthusiasm and affability, without detailed facts and lots of evidence. While you need facts to overcome a judgment based on superficial or irrelevant information, you also need them to properly assess a candidate’s team skills in your company’s actual environment. The performance-based approach described above will give you the insight to do both.

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