You want to build a great team.
Fantastic. We all want that.
But how do you go about it?
That’s the billion dollar question. And I have the answer.
Before I reveal all, think about what you’d look for in an amazing team. Do you want a team of individual superstars? But who do not work well together? Or do you prefer a competent gelling team?
It’s clear that you’d rather have the latter kind. After all, we have seen in the past that some of these so-called dream teams do not work as one. And lose to “lesser” folks.
This takes us back to the first question. How do you identify and build such great teams? Teams that work as a single unit?
To answer this, let’s take a gander at earlier attempts to answer these questions. And see if we can learn something from them.
People have used psychometric tests to gauge the personality of candidates. Tests such as Myers-Briggs and other self-reported surveys. Using the results, companies have tried to build great teams.
But these attempts have all gone awry. Why? It’s because the tests themselves are flawed. These flaws are only now beginning to become well known.
What are the flaws? Well, it helps first to look at what the results of the tests were. Psychologists found that friends and partners were NOT SIMILAR in their personalities. This runs contrary to our intuition and our own experience in choosing our friends. So, it’s clear that something’s gone wrong.
When the experts took a closer look at the studies, they found the error. It was in the way people responded. Many questions were personal. In such situations, a well-known bias takes hold. It works as follows.
When answering, people compare themselves to their peers. For example, imagine you tend to hang out with millionaires. Imagine as well that you make a decent but not lavish income. How rich would you say you are?
You’d think you are poor. Although, in reality, you are OK. Especially when you look at the rest of the population. Why the negative thoughts? It’s because you are looking at the lifestyle of your millionaire buddies. This effect is known as the reference group effect.
When accounting for this, studies have confirmed our intuition. We DO choose friends and partners whose personalities are like our own.
So does this mean then, we should use psychometric tests as a tool in our quest to find the perfect team?
Not so fast! There are more flaws. As a result, it’s illegal in the United States for companies to use this type of survey as the basis for a hiring decision. A good thing too!
However, the idea of using some sort of personality assessment is a good one. Let’s keep this in mind as we continue in our journey to find the best team.
Social Media Profiling
What’s a better way of measuring personality?
Online activity! Nowadays, there’s a record of nearly everything you do online. Your social media use in particular.
And employers are using this information. It may seem a tad unfair but it does give employers a basic starting point. An insight into the real you.
These processes are automatable. And almost everything is analyzable. From the language you use to your past history and even your choice of profile pic! And these paint an accurate personality profile.
The Challenge-Centric Approach
Alright. There IS a good way to gain personality insights. Does this solve the ultimate problem of finding a great team?
Of course not! No use building a personable (can I call it that?) team without the necessary skill sets. There’s got to be some way of measuring talent as well. And there is.
Enter the challenge-centric approach to assess capability.
The idea is simple. Give potential hires a problem that tests their skills. If they solve it, well then … they have the chops you need! This approach to hiring has been the norm in many fields in the past. For example, if you want to hire teachers, ask them to give a demo.
But now, this approach is being used in other domains: especially in the areas of tech. Facebook, Amazon, Google and other tech giants have all used a hackathon model to check skills. But it doesn’t HAVE to be a hackathon. Competitive programming contests such as Google Code Jam or Facebook Hacker Cup are great tests of coding ability.
But … A Word of Caution
At this point, we need to be cautious. This challenge-centric approach is THE WAY to go to measure skills. But it has to be done correctly. And yes, people have made mistakes in the past using the approach. Let’s look at some of them.
In the past, Google made applicants solve brainteasers. When they looked at their internal data, they found something shocking. Aptitude in solving brainteasers did not always translate into good job performance! They have now dropped asking them in their interviews.
Irrelevant MCQs and Aptitude Tests
Other mistakes companies make are giving potential hires boring MCQs to solve. Often the questions are repeated or predictable. As a result, whole cottage industries have sprung up teaching people how to crack these tests.
In the end, this is like studying for an exam. This only tests the aptitude of the students to crack the interview! It does not give any insight into the true real world ability of candidates. In other words, you can mug up and pass it! Not a fair test of expertise.
But let’s be clear on one thing. I am NOT against MCQs or interview tests. They are a quick and dirty way of checking ability. The point is that the tests should not become predictable. Otherwise, they favor the muggoos. 🙁
The Story So Far
Let’s summarize where we stand.
We talked about psychometric tests. We saw that there are major flaws in these tests. So much so that a new approach is needed. This involved looking at people’s social media activity to find out whether they are a fit. Following this, we went through several examples of challenge-centric approaches to hiring. In particular, how tech companies use code jams and hackathons as competency tests. We then looked at potential pitfalls.
However, these extensive assessments take a lot of time. And sometimes, in spite of all these attempts, unsuitable hires do get through! Why does this happen?
There could be many reasons. People may not have any digital footprint. Candidates can get “lucky” in code jam contests. Or the worst sin of all, there may be errors in the judging process itself!
So how do we solve these issues?
The answer is … the hackathon! I know, I know. Not earth shattering news. Companies have been using hackathons as a hiring mechanism. But it seems clear that they are not using this useful tool in the right way.
Because they expect magical things to happen. They think that they’ll conduct a hackathon, judge attendees, pick out winners and award them jobs. Viola. Everyone’s happy.
It doesn’t work that way. A lot goes into making a hiring hackathon successful. Let’s see what it entails.
Suppose that company XYZ has decided to conduct a hiring hackathon. And it’s a serious effort. They are doing it not because it’s the in thing to do.
The first thing to do is to outline the characteristics of the kind of person they are looking for. I am not talking about personality, culture fit etc. I mean actual hardcore ability. Are they looking for a coding genius? An idea person? Or someone well versed in the particular stack they are working with?
The problem statement has to reflect all this. Additionally, it should be extensive enough that it would need a team effort to solve. More on that later. For now, let’s look at a couple of examples.
Happy Travels Part 1
Suppose there is a travel company, Happy Travels! It is in need of top notch coders. Algorithm whizzes! After some discussion, they decide to conduct a hackathon to find them. But what problem statement would help them identify suitable candidates?
In this situation, I suggest a two-fold approach. The algo skills of candidates are super important. So I think that the company should conduct a small coding test. It shouldn’t take more than an hour or so to complete. It’s to be an individual test and assessed automatically. In fact, we at Venturesity have an excellent code evaluator developed for this purpose!
Following the coding test, attendees will receive the hackathon problem statement. Here, a somewhat close ended problem statement is the way to go. Something like build a travel website with such and such features. Then outline the features in detail. List out all APIs and any specific technology they want attendees to use. They could also give a half finished website and ask people to add features to it! In any case, the metrics for judging must be precise and clearly outlined.
I will talk more extensively about judging later on. For now, let’s move on to the next example.
Happy Travels Part 2
Suppose Happy Travels conducts another hackathon. With an eye for recruiting people with great ideas. Coding skills not so important. Important enough, but the need of the hour is ideas. What’s the problem statement going to look like?
The coding test is not necessary this time. The best problem statement would be open-ended. Even something as open-ended as like reimagine the future of travel! Build either a website, mobile app, anything.
And if you need a person who is both an idea and coding guru, then you can introduce a coding test as well.
The takeaway is that the problem statement must be well thought-out. It’s not something that’s thrown out there!
Judging During the Hackathon
Okay. Now we’ve got a good problem statement. What do we do about it? Should the company leave candidates alone during the hackathon and judge them later?
Of course not! It’s not fair on the candidates. To subject them to a rigorous judging process after they’ve worked for such a long time is cruel! And sometimes, due to lack of time, I’ve seen judges judge the entire work done in a mere five minutes.
No. Rather, it’s best to have a continuous assessment of the candidates.
You’d have company judges go around interacting with the contestants. During the interaction, they will take note on how well candidates work together as a team. They will also pay attention to individual contributions.
(Generally, we ask attendees to upload their code onto Github. From commit history, you can get a sense of what each team member has done.)
This way, companies will not miss out on good hires because of hasty judging. Not only that, attendees feel good that their efforts are judged properly. Rather than in a few minutes!
Also, as you can see, the hackathon works best if you judge the aspirants on both technical and soft skills. Especially how people work in teams. Then you can build your dream team with these insights!
After The Hackathon
Alright. The hackathon’s over. You’ve found your great team. Now what? Is it done?
No! There are still avenues for pitfalls. Many times job applicants are subjected to further rounds of interview. Including tech interviews! That’s illogical. If the hackathon is done right, there’s no need for additional tech assessments. It’s over. Finito. Nothing more to test. Have FAITH in the hackathon process.
Another dirty little secret. At times the tech team likes a particular set of candidates. But when it goes on to H.R., the aspirants get rejected. There’s a disconnect between H.R. and the tech team! So as to avoid this pernicious scenario, I think the judges should be members of the tech as well as H.R. That way, both groups have a say in the hiring decision.
Yet another mistake people make are delays in rolling out job offers. Yes, I understand. Due to circumstances, you may not be able to avoid them. But note: these candidates are high in demand. If you delay in rolling out the red carpet, a rival will snap them up! The best solution to this? On the spot offers! Yes, after the hackathon is over, roll out the offer immediately. Then you won’t lose out. The early bird does get the worm. In this case, several worms. 🙂
A Few Final Thoughts
Finding and building a great team is not as difficult as it used to be. There’s a ready-made method out there. The hiring hackathon!
Unfortunately, many companies don’t use this approach to its fullest potential. Sometimes the problem statements they outline are irrelevant. The judging process is hasty. Other times, the only focus is on tech expertise. No leveraging of personality insights! Without this, how can you build a kickass team that gels??
So then do leverage away. Follow the advice above, and you WILL FIND your rockstar team. No doubts about it.
Want to hire and build a great team through a hackathon? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will help you organize a fantastic hackathon to fulfill all your hiring requirements!