10 Myths to be Aware of When Hiring a Team

November 12, 2015

Most job descriptions identify being a "team player" as a desirable characteristic in a successful job candidate. However, while most recruiters have a sense of what a good team player might look like, their assessment of a candidate is likely to be based more upon anecdote than fact.

In addition, scientific research into team and teamwork has now proven that much of the conventional wisdom about teams is dead wrong, according to the newly published book Team Genius: The New Science of High-Performing Organizations.

Here are the ten most persistent myths about teams, along with the research-based truths:

Myth #1: Big teams get more done than smaller teams.

At many companies, the assumption is that you can solve a problem by assigning more manpower to it. You therefore see teams consisting of 20 or 30 people, with more added if the team starts to fall behind.

Truth: The ideal team size is between five and nine people. Beyond that sweet spot, each added person makes a team less effective. Therefore, candidates who tout their experience inside huge teams are probably "reframing" the team's failure.

Myth #2: Team members should have good chemistry.

Most interviewers look for candidates with whom they feel comfortable. They score a candidate higher if the candidate shares interests with the interviewer and seems as if he or she will "click" with the team.

Truth: In order to be effective, teams need sufficient mental and emotional diversity to create a certain amount of conflict. Without a certain amount of friction, teams tend to fall into predictable ruts.

Myth #3: Teams need team leaders.

According to my quick calculationm, if the pages of all the books on leadership currently for sale on Amazon were laid end to end, they'd circle the earth 80 times. Not surprisingly, many assume that leadership is an essential component of a successful team.

Truth: Teams work best when members listen and talk in equal measure. If one member takes control and begins to dominate the discussions (i.e., shows leadership), it creates resentment and the team falters.

Myth #4: Teams don't need managers.

Most companies are organized functionally, where people who do the same thing report to the same manager. Such companies set up "cross-functional" teams to transcend organizational barriers and handle issues that require broad support.

Truth: Teams are more effective when they have a manager whose full-time job is to help team members communicate and work together.

Myth #5: Innovation results from geniuses who work solo.

Popular culture tends to lionize groundbreaking visionaries and scientists (like Steve Jobs or Albert Einstein). As a result, companies tend to consider hiring a "true genius" as the gold standard of great recruiting.

Truth: While mind-bendingly brilliant geniuses do exist, they’re exceedingly rare. In real life, mere mortals, especially smart ones, are more effective and creative when working with others, especially those who are equally smart.

Myth #6: Teamwork means avoiding conflict.

There's a tendency to think of a good "team player" as somebody who will put his or her opinions aside and instead focus on making the entire team successful. Therefore, recruiters sometimes look for good "consensus builders."

Truth: Conflict is essential to good team performance. A certain amount of creative abrasion allows a team to identify alternative approaches, as long as conflicts don’t get personal and team members surface the reasons behind their disagreements.

Myth #7: Men are better team players than women.

The reasoning behind this myth is as follows: Because men are more likely to participate in team sports, they find it more natural to work in teams than women. As a result, female team members should strive to be "one of the guys."

Truth: Gender is irrelevant to team performance with one glaring exception. Men feel dissatisfied and less committed to a project when assigned to a team consisting of more women than men.

Myth #8: Millennials work best when teamed together.

Probably due to the use of sports teams as models for teamwork, today's stereotype of an ideal business team is a group of energetic young people who aren't afraid to "break the rules" to get things done.

Truth: In real life, the most effective teams have a mix of different ages, which adds practical business experience to the proverbial exuberance of youth. One caveat: Mixed-age teams have more creative abrasion and thus require more active management.

Myth #9: Virtual teams are the wave of the future.

Today's technology allows employees to be located anywhere, work at home and participate in teams that meet in a virtual office environment.

Truth: Teams work better together and get more done when members are in close physical proximity. If a team must be virtual, it should have periodic in-person team meetings.

Myth #10: Teams are simply a way to get work done more effectively.

There's no question that teams are essential inside most companies and that hiring people who work well in teams is an excellent way to make an organization more effective. However, there's a great truth here, which is:

Truth: Team work makes people feel good. Bonding with a team releases oxytocin, a brain chemical that creates intense pleasure. So effective teams do more than get work done; they make your employees happier, too.

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