How to Build an Effective Team: Tips for Success

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Making of a Manager" by Julie Zhuo. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Does your team need to be stronger and more productive? Do you need to put more people on your team?

In The Making of a Manager, Julie Zhuo explains that great teams are led by even better managers. The managers have to build the team from the ground up, starting with the hiring process.

Learn how to build an effective team that will make your business successful.

Building and Nurturing a Team

Below, we’ll examine a core function managers must perform: building and nurturing a team that works well together. We’ll review the two critical elements of team building that Zhuo says are crucial in learning how to build an effective team: hiring the right people and coaching and developing team members.

Hiring the Right People

Zhuo says great managers consistently hire people with the skills and commitment the team needs to advance company objectives. As the manager, it’s ultimately up to you to build a winning team, even if you have other staff members helping you. Therefore, it’s important to have a reliable process in place. Let’s first look at the steps for identifying and interviewing candidates. Then, we’ll cover the steps for evaluating and selecting candidates.

(Shortform note: The financial impact bad hires can have for a business underscores Zhuo’s emphasis on the importance of hiring well. According to research, a bad hire can cost a company up to 30% of the employee’s annual wages in added expenses (extra training, additional supervision time, and so on). Therefore, if an employee earns $80,000 per year, your company’s added expense might be $24,000: Research shows that managers have to spend 17% of their time supervising poorly-performing employees, which equates to nearly a full wasted day per week that could be spent on more productive tasks.)

How to Identify and Interview Candidates

Once you start your hiring efforts, Zhuo recommends these steps to find and interview candidates:

Step #1: Create a clear job description. Clarify core job duties, and be specific about the skills, experiences, and qualities you need. For example, if you need a project manager who’s detail-oriented and great at calmly navigating difficult conversations with strong personalities,  be sure you note that preference.

Step #2: Decide where you’ll look for candidates. Zhuo recommends asking colleagues for recommendations before looking anywhere else. If none of their suggestions work out, you now have an idea of what kind of person to look for elsewhere.

Step #3: Prepare a template of interview questions. Be clear about what you want to learn, and use the same questions for each candidate interviewing for a single role. As Zhuo says, this helps you compare candidates based on the quality of their answers rather than subjective impressions.

Step #4: Invite colleagues to help you conduct interviews. According to Zhuo, this can diminish bias that often interferes when only one person is involved and can help you catch warning signs you might overlook if you’re on your own—for example, a candidate who won’t make eye contact with female interviewers.

Step #5: Conduct memorable interviews. Avoid distractions and devote your attention to candidates so they know you consider them a priority. Also (if you think they’re likely to be a good hire), describe the difference you see they’ll make when they’re on your team, and tell them how excited you are to welcome them to the company. As Zhuo says, you need to make sure candidates see your company as an attractive place to work.

How to Evaluate and Select Candidates

After you’ve interviewed candidates, how do you decide who to hire? Zhuo suggests you take these steps to evaluate and select candidates that will build an effective team.

Step #1: Review work they’ve done in the past. Evaluate a few projects they’ve completed that are similar to the work they’ll be expected to do at your company. According to Zhuo, this will give you a clear sense of their skills and ability to problem solve. It’ll also help you forecast how they’ll perform in the future.

Step #2: Ask trusted peers for input. Zhuo says you likely won’t get useful input from references a candidate furnishes. Instead, seek input from colleagues and peers in your professional network who’ll give you an honest assessment of candidates.

Step #3: Go with candidates who excite you. Even if a candidate has the needed skills and qualities, don’t choose them just because they could fit. Zhuo says to always give preference to candidates who spark enthusiasm in at least one interviewer. Candidates are more likely to add high value to your team when they stand out as unique. 

Step #4: Prioritize diverse candidates. Hire candidates who have varied work and life experiences and who represent diverse races, genders, cultural backgrounds, and sexual orientations. Zhuo says diverse teams generate more creative ideas, solve problems more effectively, and produce superior outcomes.

Step #5: Choose people who have the potential to contribute beyond their designated role. Prepare for future growth by hiring candidates who are equipped to deliver more than you need immediately. For example, even if a frontline sales role doesn’t include supervisory responsibilities now, Zhuo says it’s wise to give an edge to candidates who have relevant sales experience and supervising experience. They’ll be able to step into bigger roles as your team grows.

Coaching and Developing Your Team

The last step in building an effective team is coaching your team. Once you’ve hired the right people, you must continually coach and develop your team to keep performance high. For coaching to be effective, Zhuo says, you must earn your team members’ trust and create a safe, supportive environment for them.

Why is trust so important? As Zhuo explains, when employees don’t feel safe, they’ll hesitate—or avoid—coming to you with problems, fearing negative repercussions. If employees struggle without your help and knowledge, they may eventually become so frustrated that they leave. Also, small problems often develop into bigger problems in the future if they’re not addressed. Conversely, if employees do feel safe coming to you with problems, you can help them find solutions and prevent problems from escalating.

So, how do you build a foundation of trust with your team? Zhuo makes three key recommendations: demonstrate that you care, have weekly one-on-one meetings, and give and request feedback.

How to Build an Effective Team: Tips for Success

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Making of a Manager summary :

  • How to build a team and motivate them to work together
  • How to run productive meetings
  • Tips on how to interview and hire the right employees

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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