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Team building and bias — how to solve the ultimate human puzzle

How something as difficult as putting a team together may prove to be a challenge due to irrationality.

Most of our choices are made for us before we really think. There are several biases that are on the rational side, such as our idea of what a professional person looks, behaves and talks like. But there are also many biases on what we are looking for that never emerge to our conscious mind, such as race, gender, age, weight, height, hobbies and mannerisms that may lean us toward picking a candidate instead of another.

Take Moneyball, for example. The film tells a story of a baseball team manager that had no budget to hire all-star players, and the dream to win a championship. His advisers, long-time baseball career men, chose players by how they threw, how they walked, how good they looked, and yes, how well they played. The game, however, is not based on how well a single player did in their role, or even if the whole team was made of awesome players. The game is based on finding a strategy that would eventually grant the most runs possible. In a strike of luck, the manager meets a young economist that tells him so, and together they use statistics to build a team that is able to break a historical record of winning 20 games in a row.

scene from Moneyball: the manager and the economist debating player choice

While choosing team members at work, as managers, we certainly have in mind a very rational picture of what we are searching for: a good team-player; someone who is altruistic and yet ambitious; someone who is always learning, but has leading skills; someone who listens, and yet knows how to draw a crowd.

Our attention is on that idealistic view of the perfect employee, but in the meantime we fall prey to our biases. We let our perceptions do the hiring for us, favoring people that look kind but ambitious, look understanding and avid for learning, look compassionate and leading-like. Seeing is believing, and when what we see and buy are appearances, we become unable to identify a candidate's flaws, and are left with the impression later on that we are bad at recruiting.

It doesn't have to be this way. For many of us, blind challenges and coded names for evaluating quiz responses are already the rule. However, if we acknowledge the full extent of our irrationality, we'll be able to employ methods that help us identify a candidate's strengths and weaknesses, profile and posture, as well as technical skills. We'll also be able to envision the team we want to build, and the pieces (the team members) that are missing to bring balance to that team.

I’ve had wonderful experiences with MBTI and DISC, in order to analyze a person’s behavior and values in life, and they work even if the person is very nervous. There are various methods in the market that will allow you to do the same. We should be making good use of them not only to find the team members we want, but also to identify the gaps in them that will need our help in developing, be it that team member that lacks technical knowledge, be it that team member that needs work on their soft skills.

These methods allow us to take all our biases off the table and understand how a candidate or a team member’s inner cogworks function. They enable us to perceive that person without the lenses of our expectations, or the influence of personal preferences. They allow us to build a team based on how many runs we need to win the championship, and to empathize with our team so we make strategy clear to all, and make sure that we all have the same goal in mind.

References:

Moneyball

Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational