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Benefitting from Workgroups

Sometimes the Team Approach Can be a Better Solution.

By Thomas J. Roach

One of the ways progressive companies make their business culture more participative and collegial is through the involvement of workgroups. These can be valuable to problem-solve in areas as diverse as how to approach a permitting issue to the best way to plan a community event.

Another place where workgroups are valuable is in the hiring of coworkers. This replaces the old method of the manager or human resources conducting the interview. Ideally the workgroup receives guidance from human resources and then selects two or three candidates to send to the manager who makes the final selection.

In large corporations, executive-level hiring committees could have more than a dozen members. A large group is beneficial because it represents a broader spectrum of the corporate culture, but it can be problematic when it comes time to conduct the employment interview.

Crucial Mistakes
Inexperienced or undisciplined interviewers tend to make two crucial mistakes. The first mistake is giving in to the desire to make friends and to tell the interviewee about the company. All job-seeking interviewees want to be friends with their interviewers, and they probably already want to work for the company or they wouldn’t have applied. Interviews that turn into let’s-get-acquainted sessions waste valuable time.

Group interviews are even more likely to go in this direction than one-on-one interviews because there is already a bonding process at work among group members, and it can easily carry over from their organizational meetings to the interviews with job candidates.
The second common mistake is telegraphing the answer when asking the question. Untrained interviewers might say to a job applicant, “This job requires organizational skills. Are you organized?” A better question is “Could you tell us what you did yesterday?” Or, “Please describe your office for us.” The interviewee has no clue what the point of these questions might be, and the committee can ask probing follow-up questions based on information in the answers that will allow them to assess organizational skills without giving away their objective.

These problems can be avoided if the primary questions are written in advance and assigned to specific group members. This is also a good way to get everyone involved. A two-hour probing interview will require 12 to 24 primary questions. One or two questions can be assigned to each interviewer. This insures that each series of questions at least starts objectively.

Anyone can then ask follow-up questions, but if the first question in the sequence is asked objectively, it is likely that the spontaneous secondary questions will be objective as well.

Prep Step
Another important preparation step for an interview committee is practicing the interview. If the group is hiring a line manager, interviewing another line manager would be the best practice. Even better, the group might arrange to interview the person who is vacating the position.

When the practice interview is over, the committee members can analyze their effort. They might even ask the practice interviewee what he or she thought they might have been trying to find out when they asked certain questions.

When the interviews are over and the new hire is in place, the company will not only have a new employee who is likely to succeed, they also will have a team of interviewers with a sophisticated understanding of the hiring process.

It is usually good to involve a few people from outside the department when putting an interview team together. The outside members broaden the scope of the interview. Including members from outside the department also provides a means of professionalizing the hiring process companywide. Once one department has conducted an objective team interview, the next department that needs to hire someone can draft two or three interviewers from the last interviewing team and use them to help organize the next group.