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Team or no team?

Building a cohesive team is perhaps the most vexing task for any manager. We crave the contributions of star performers, yet we cringe when the stars belittle the rest of the team.

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In the modern business world, more work is done virtually and by widely dispersed teams than ever before. The solitary figure toiling from a home office has become the archetype of the modern knowledge economy. Yet in something of a paradox, teamwork is more important than ever.

In her book From Me to We, Janine Garner goes so far as to predict the extinction of loners. “Those unwilling to work collaboratively, who prefer to work alone [and] who are closed to outside thinking and different approaches, will slowly disappear,” she writes.

Read it on getAbstract

Noted management thinker Patrick Lencioni agrees. “The ability to work effectively with others … is more critical in today’s flued world than it has ever been,” he writes in The Ideal Team Player.

Building a cohesive team is perhaps the most vexing task for any manager. We crave the contributions of star performers, yet we cringe when the stars belittle the rest of the team. Lencioni offers a recipe for hiring effective teammates. “’The right people’ are the ones who have the three virtues in common – humility, hunger and people smarts,” Lencioni writes.

Humility is the most important of those virtues, he argues. Egotistical employees can destroy team morale.

When you’re hiring, keep a sharp eye out for arrogance. However, when you look for humility, make sure it’s combined with legit skills. Sometimes humility just means a worker lacks self-confidence, Lencioni warns.

Next comes hunger – the desire to excel and the willingness to work hard. Hungry workers are unlikely to let down their teammates.

The final ingredient is people smarts. This is the ability to read others and to understand their motivations.

Of course, everyone claims to be humble, hungry and people smart, and traditional job interviews will do little to help you determine if job candidates are giving accurate reflections of themselves. Lencioni suggests nontraditional job interviews, such as taking the candidate shopping. These situations encourage job candidates to let down their guard, and you can see how they interact with others.

It’s unlikely that we’ll ever neatly solve the messy riddle posed by teams. As Lencioni acknowledges, even those who aren’t great teammates will take pains to hide that reality. In other words, teamwork remains hard work.

Garner, for her part, espouses former General Electric CEO Jack Welch’s thinking about “growing others.” As a leader, it’s your duty to nurture promising younger people by introducing them to your network and helping them succeed.

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