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The Right Stuff: Building Your Perfect Team 

By Winston Scott

Success of any organization depends on everybody working together, whether that organization has five people or five thousand. With a good team in place, your company can reach new heights of success. With the wrong team assembled, even the best laid plans can fall apart and cause the business to stagnate.

Consider what happens at NASA when building a team of astronauts: When NASA has an opening for an astronaut, thousands of people apply. The selection committee must winnow that down to a mere eighty finalists. All of them have stellar technical qualifications; they have advanced degrees, know how to fly airplanes, and so forth. During the rigorous weeklong interview process, NASA assesses how well each candidate would fit in their team. This is vital, because astronauts do everything as a team—no lone rangers in outer space survive for very long. As an astronaut, your life depends on every person on your team, and every person on your team’s life depends on you.

On the ground, team building principles must be just as rigorous as the NASA model. When you take over as a new CEO, you may need to build a team from scratch. Or, even after many years heading up a company, you may discover that your team is weak and needs a tune-up. Following NASA’s model for team-building, you can ensure that your team will have “the right stuff” for success.

1. Identify good team members from the beginning. Like NASA, you need to look for the qualities that make good team members from the earliest stages of the hiring process. Though there may be a place for introverts and lone wolves (in a research laboratory setting, for example) when building your team, you want to bring on board good communicators, people who are open, who blend well with others, and who thrive on collaboration. NASA delivers a battery of medical and psychological tests to determine which candidates have these qualities. For your purposes, start by making a checklist of those qualities you’re looking for, based on your experience, in the “perfect” team member. Then consult with a trusted Human Resources professional to determine which interview questions would best help you discover whether a candidate has those qualities. Also, countless business training books offer interview questions you can tailor to meet the specific needs of your team.

2. Seek maturity and experience. The average age of an astronaut is thirty-five, and many are in their forties, fifties, and even sixties. Select team members who have the appropriate technical skills and education needed for their role, and also, whenever you can, seek out those professionals who have withstood the tests of time. Recent graduates with passion and plenty of know-how are great; the well-seasoned veterans you choose bring with them their many years of experience, making them excellent mentors to the team as a whole and its younger members in particular.

3. Share the vision. Every team member in the space program must buy into each individual mission, as well as NASA’s overall vision for space travel and exploration. As your organization’s leader, you need to clearly articulate your company’s vision and ensure your team members’ buy-in. Clearly communicate the importance of achieving individual and overall goals and delineate each individual’s role in attaining them. Putting the vision out there from the get-go as you recruit new talent will attract people to your team who want to be there and have the most to contribute.

4. Take your time. When you’re brought on board at NASA, you’re a “candidate” for two years before you can become a full-fledged astronaut. In your own organization, consider a probationary period for all new team members of at least 90 days and even up to 180 days. If a team member or you don’t feel like the fit is right, either of you can easily terminate the relationship.

5. Break down barriers. To foster a collaborative atmosphere in your organization, you need to eliminate perceived barriers among team members; differences in culture, ethnicity, gender, and age can all impede team progress and bonding if they’re allowed to persist. One way to get past such hindrances – real or imagined – is to spend time together, getting to know one another as people, not just co-workers. When training for space flight, astronauts frequently get together socially. Likewise, in your business, provide casual, comfortable social opportunities for your team, and you’ll discover a more mutually supportive culture evolves.

6. Remain visible. Open daily communication with your team strengthens it. Periodic one-on-one sessions with team members, unrelated to specific projects, will also prove invaluable. Emphasize that the point of the meeting is for the team member to tell you as much or as little as he or she wants to with the assurance that anything said will not leave the room. Eventually, with open communication, your people will begin to trust you more, and will tell you the things that bother them. When you begin to address those issues, you bring the team together even more. Your people need good, honest feedback and a chance to be heard. Even if they don’t always get what they want, they appreciate your honesty and efforts on their behalf, which further helps solidify the team.

7. Send the right message. Formal performance reviews, feedback from other trusted team members, and your own observations and interactions will help you judge which team members are fitting in best and contributing to the overall objectives. Make every effort to move highly motivated team members into positions that best suit their skills so you can keep them in the organization. Before letting anyone go, give specifics about what that person can do to improve performance, and then give him or her an opportunity to turn it around. By not sending anyone out the door arbitrarily, your actions show your team that you care about each individual, which in turn helps solidify the team as a whole.

We have lift off! NASA’s team building model considers good team characteristics from the earliest point in hiring process through training and into daily communication with every individual chosen for the team. Bringing on good team players and using your communication skills as part of continuing efforts to groom those you’ve chosen for your team are the rocket fuel that will propel your organization to gravity-defying heights.

Read other articles and learn more about Winston Scott.

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