The Right Stuff: Building Your Perfect Team
By Winston Scott
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.
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.
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.
have lift off!
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
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