I have fond memories from my youth when I was with a group of friends and we picked teams for a game. The games varied; baseball, kickball, capture the flag, football, or war. But the act of picking teams usually followed the same process. Two captains were selected and then each captain would take turns picking team members from the rest of the group. The order of selection was based on skills and the kid the captain thought provided the best chance to win. Sometimes it was based on friendships and alliances made outside the field of play. Then we played.
When I select members for a technology department today, I have a different perspective. I like to look for team members that can contribute beyond a specific technical skill set. A base technical skill is required, but it is not enough to be on the team I would pick. Daniel Pink writes in his book A Whole New Mind that technical skills are increasingly being replaced by someone who can do it cheaper (think Asia) or a computer that can do it faster. Pink argues knowledge workers who can contribute beyond direct technical output will find more options for employment and a higher likelihood of career fulfilment. These workers can detect patterns, see opportunities, and combine results into new inventions and stories to connect with customers and coworkers.
This past week my wife interviewed two candidates for a position on her team. She asked me for advice on how to approach the process and make a distinction between the two candidates. I recommended looking for the candidate who showed interest in the mission of her workplace. Did they ask questions about the business, the workflows used by the team, the current challenges, etc.? This employee would become more fully engaged in looking at the big picture and trying to help find solutions and make improvements.
In another conversation this week, I was asked about replacing a member on our technology steering committee. The basis for the question was the new prospective member was younger and more comfortable with technology solutions. I reminded my colleague the primary purpose of the committee was to discuss the direction and impact of technology solutions on the business more than any specific technology used. The skill set I want on the committee requires more institutional knowledge of the business than it does technical knowledge.
Picking teams today is different than when I was a kid. I want team members who are engaged enough to ask clarifying questions, to ask why, and to suggest areas of improvement. I want team members to make an intentional effort to understand the whole solution and not just the tasks assigned to them. When we play the game, these are the skills that will help us win. You in?
Onward and upward!