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This series will give you simple strategies for killer teams.

Today’s BIG IDEA—Research shows there is absolutely nothing more vital to building a high-performance team than getting the right people on (or off) your bus.

In his landmark book Good to Great, Jim Collins and his research team looked at 28 companies over more than three decades to identify which companies wildly outperformed others. Their clear conclusion—Everything starts with getting the right people on your bus.

The first chapter of his book is aptly titled—First Who, Then What.

This is a powerful mantra to lead by.

Collins’ thoughts are summed up in this quote:

If you have the right people on your bus, the problem of how to motivate people largely goes away. The right people don’t need to be tightly managed or fired up: they will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great… And if you have the wrong people, it doesn’t matter whether you discover the right direction; you still won’t have a great company. Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”

The benefits of having the right people

  • A great team naturally attracts other super stars
  • You can change direction easily because people want to work with the team regardless of direction
  • You don’t have to motivate people, so you have more time, energy, and fulfillment
  • Your succession plan is easier because your team is rich in top talent
  • A great team is a powerful recruiting, retention, and morale boosting mechanism (people are less likely to leave when they absolutely love their coworkers)
  • Turnover is one of the greatest expenses for any company

Fact—talented awesome people want to work with other talented awesome people.

Hire hard, manage easy

“Whatever you current hiring time is—quadruple it.” –Dave Ramsey

Financial and leadership expert Dave Ramsey recently posted a harsh but hilarious video online entitled Thoroughbreds and Donkeys (link at bottom). He contends that Thoroughbreds don’t want to work with Donkeys, and if you allow too many Donkeys into the barn, the Thoroughbreds will run for the hills.

Yes, he’s serious. If you don’t already have people on your bus, take the time necessary to really evaluate if they are a good fit. Either way, it will take your time!

It’s just a matter of whether you go slow and get the right people, or take your time on the back end doing all kinds of stressful and time-sucking progressive discipline and off-boarding.

Patrick Lencioni—widely recognized as an international expert on leadership, teams, and organizations—encourages people to really take their time with new hires. In fact, he encourages non-traditional ways of getting to see what people are really like.

For example, he suggests taking candidates to a soccer practice, running errands, or even across the country on a flight! The goal is to see how they really act when they aren’t trying to put on their best face in an interview.

Lencioni even jokes that the best way to discover their true character might be to take them to dinner and order the wrong food for them!

How good is your hiring process?

Hiring expert Lou Adler argues that fairly early on, people establish predictable patterns for their workplace behavior.

This reminds me of something I learned early in graduate school—In general, history is the best predictor of the future when it comes to human behavior.

And your hiring process should be designed to illuminate past behaviors—not ask people what they would do in a given future scenario—which is how most interviews are designed. Anyone can tell you how they would ideally handle some imaginary future scenario, especially when they really want the job.

Many interviews also focus exclusively on technical competence, but this can easily lead to hiring people that are technically very smart, but don’t get along with people.

If multiple interviews or getting to know people first may conflict with your HR practices in any way, you should consult them and find out how you can still integrate some of these concepts.

“Proper hiring creates a good team, and a good team lowers turnover.” –Dave Ramsey

Look for people who are humble, hungry, and people smart

According to Alan Davidson, former president of the San Diego Psychological Association, about 80% of all terminations are due to personality and interpersonal problems.

This has proven true in my 10 years of experience as a manager. Ask any leader and they will tell you that interpersonal problems is by far the most difficult thing to deal with.

If someone meets the threshold for required competency and has a teachable attitude, I’d much rather have that person on my team than someone who is very smart, but so egotistical that they won’t take feedback and have constant conflict with their team members.

Lencioni also wrote an incredible book entitled The Ideal Team Player in which he has distilled 25 years of hiring advice into 3 traits—Look for people who are Humble, Hungry, and People Smart.

Decide on a standard of competence, but then spend the rest of your hiring process looking for these three traits.

The big takeaway here is that you want hard workers who are teachable and self-motivated, and play nice with others!

Several years ago the university of Notre Dame developed a large pool of interview questions designed for this very purpose. I encourage you to review the list and include them in your hiring process (link at bottom).

Research suggests that this practice may increase your new-hire retention rate from about 33% to 67%. That’s a big jump—and it translates into big future savings on time and money.

If you rush the hiring process, you will likely end up with people who come with drama. You might also end up with someone who just needed a job quickly or was escaping a job they hated. Either way, as a leader you need to take ownership of this area.

Do not delegate hiring!

Coaching people and getting people off the bus is also a critical skill for any leader, but nothing replaces getting the right people on the team in the first place.

Turn information into action

  1. How many of your team members would you rehire if you were starting from ground zero?
  2. Who on your team needs to move seats?
  3. Use the hiring questions below to refine your interview questions

 Have a great weekend.


 *If you have enjoyed Parker’s blog, check out The Next Peak Podcast that Parker co-hosts. We interview successful leaders and discuss research-based principles that help people win in the workplace without compromising the things that matter most—relationships, a life of purpose, and health.

Suggested resources:

  1. Jim Collins-Good to Great
  2. Patrick Lencioni –The Ideal Team Player
  3. Dave Ramsey- Entreleadership
  4. Donkeys and Thoroughbreds—Dave Ramsey
  5. Notre Dame Behavioral Interviewing Questions




Dr. Parker Houston

Parker Houston

Dr. Parker Houston is a licensed clinical psychologist and board-certified in organizational psychology. He is also certified in personal and executive coaching. Parker's personal mission is to share science-based principles of psychology and timeless spiritual practices, to help people improve the way they lead themselves, their families, and their organizations. *Opinions expressed are the author's own.
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