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You Only Need to Ask One Question to Assess Team Skills

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Team skills are a core attribute of success; unfortunately most interviewers assess them on factors that do not predict team skills.

Using the Performance-based Hiring process I recommend, you only need to ask two types of questions to determine if a person is a great fit for your open job. The Most Important Interview Question of All Time is the first of the two. It involves digging into the person’s major accomplishments and assessing the trend of the person’s performance over time.

A modification of this same question can be used to accurately assess team skills. To get a sense of how revealing this technique is, answer the following question about one of your team accomplishments.

Can you describe your most significant team accomplishment, either where you led a team or were part of an important team project?

Regardless of your initial response, I’m going to follow up with these additional fact-finding questions. Review them slowly and think about how you’d answer them regarding the same team accomplishment.

Use Team Fact-finding Questions to Clarify the Person’s Role

  • Describe who was on the team including titles and your exact role.
  • How did you get on the team? If you were chosen, why were you chosen? If you volunteered, why did you volunteer?
  • Did you have a chance to build the team, and, if so, how?
  • What were the team objectives and how did you help shape them?
  • Was a plan put together? What was your role in this?
  • Was the plan successful? How did you help make it successful?
  • Who was the most difficult person to deal with on the team? How did you deal with the person and did you influence the person in any way?
  • Give me examples of how you influenced those on the team who didn’t report to you.
  • Give me examples of how you influenced those who were in a different function or who were more senior than you.
  • What were the three or four things you did to help the team achieve its objectives?
  • Where did you proactively help others on the team meet their objectives or become better? (Get 2-3 examples of this for this one accomplishment.)
  • Did the team achieve its objectives?
  • Did the team receive any formal recognition?
  • Did you receive any personal recognition for your role on this team?
  • How did your team skills improve or change as a result of this team accomplishment?

Repeat the Same Questioning Process Two More Times

Now imagine I ask you this same question with similar fact-finding follow-up questions for at least two different team accomplishments. The purpose of this approach is to obtain detailed insight into three different team accomplishments, including your most current position, for the past 3-5 years (possibly longer, if appropriate). With this information, here’s what I’d learn about your team skills:

  • The growth and importance of the teams you were assigned to and if your role was expanding or not
  • If you were assigned to important multi-functional teams, and, if you were, why and how
  • Who you influenced outside of your department, their organizational function and level, how you convinced them, and if this ability was growing or not
  • If you proactively helped others and how you helped them
  • Your ability to deal with conflict
  • The growth of your team influence over time and if it expanded in scope or was static
  • How others perceived your team skills by either asking for your support or assigning you to important teams
  • The success of the teams, your role in helping them achieve success, and if you were personally recognized for the success in any way
  • Your ability to work with and influence people in different functions and different levels, both inside and outside the company
  • If your team skills were still growing or had reached a plateau

Using this approach, consider how much information an interviewer would have about your team skills unattributed to whether you make a good first impression or not, whether you’re introverted or extroverted, or whether you were a bit nervous or not.

Team skills are a core attribute of success; unfortunately most interviewers assess them on factors that do not predict team skills. I’ve met quiet techies who were assigned to cross-functional product marketing teams who had outstanding team skills. I’ve also met polished sales types who were never assigned to any important teams. Finding people who have a track record of being consistently assigned to important cross-functional teams is how you measure team skills.

Properly assessing candidates for team skills should be a critical focus of every interview. All it takes is one question asked three times.


Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. He’s also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people. You can continue the conversation on LinkedIn’s Essential Guide for Hiring Discussion Group.