When I was a Sergeant with the police department, one of the jobs that I had was in Special Operations. I was offered command of a new unit in which I got build it from the ground up. I tapped some good young officers and within a few months, we were turning heads. My unit included two corporals, ten police officers, my secretary and me. There were some months that this small unit made more arrests and wrote more tickets than all of the officers in entire precincts.
Success brings its owns challenges, however. Our incredible success caused the police department’s brass to reasonably assume that if we could do that well with a few officers, we could really make an impact if we had more officers. We went from being a small, quick-reacting unit, to a bigger, slower, more institutionalized section of the police department. They added another layer of management that changed the way that we worked. Even though we were bigger, our productivity began to slowly drop.
One of the reasons that we had been so successful was that I had a very specific formula that I used in selecting officers for the unit. When the unit got bigger, I did not have the final say in who was added to the team. I had input but there were several others who participated in the decision making process. Some of the officers that were subsequently added really did not perform well and contributed to our numbers going down.
Here is the formula that I used in building my team. This formula will translate well in most organizations or companies.
1. Character. I want team members that I can trust to do the right thing, not just do things right. I don’t want to have to worry about what they are doing when I am not around. They were chosen because I knew their character or I was able to get good recommendations from other supervisors that I trusted.
2. Chemistry. When I am putting a team together, I select people that I want to be around. There were a lot of talented, experienced officers that wanted to come work with us. In many cases, however, the chemistry just wasn’t there. Workplace drama can be eliminated or reduced if we pay attention to this important ingredient in the hiring or selecting process. During our first two years, the new unit had very little interpersonal conflict. In fact, during my entire thirty year career, I don’t think I ever saw a unit get along better and accomplish so much.
3. Competence. Competence is important but I rank it last. Of course, there are certain skills required for any position that you are hiring for. I will still take someone with good character and chemistry but who might not be as knowledgable in the job. If the person is willing to work hard and learn, we can work together. When I was assembling my team in Special Operations, I looked for younger, less experienced officers. Other supervisors said I was crazy to not go after guys or girls who had already proven themselves. What I looked for, though, was an officer who was highly motivated. If they were willing to work hard, I knew that I could train them and they would become competent sooner, rather than later. This also gave us the opportunity to train them the way that we wanted them trained. Less experience meant less bad stuff to unlearn. Our success proved that this approach worked. Many of those team members ended up taking big career steps later because of how well they had performed for me.
Obviously, there are many work situations in which you are given an existing team and have little or no input in who is on the team. That requires a whole different set of skills in molding them into an effective team of police officers, firefighters, sales people, or engineers. Building a great team, however, is one of the things that defines great leadership.
What are some other things that you look for in people when you are building a team?
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