Over the last couple of days, I have been tracking the National Football League’s (NFL) Draft from afar. It’s not that I am fanatical about any particular team or the NFL as a whole, I am always intrigued by the strategies and tactics involved in building teams. The draft model is a good one: Teams watch video of each player’s past performances, interview those who they believe might make a nice addition to their existing team (or the team they are attempting to become), and then rank each candidate based on ability, potential, character, and how well they fit into their game plan. Then each team gets their turn to pick from the undrafted player they believe will contribute the most to the team. The players get little say in all of this and most are grateful just to be picked (and paid). There are occasions when a drafted player refuses to play for the team that picked them, but that happens very infrequently.

In the business world, there isn’t a draft. More often than thought, the process begins when an individual expresses an interest (or applies) to work for a specific organization (we will leave headhunters for another day). If the resume or application is appealing to the hiring team, the applicant might experience a series of interviews and possibly tests. The hiring team will then decide whether or not that individual is someone they want on the team. Clearly, I generalized the countless variations of approaches businesses use to attract talent and decide which recruit to make a teammate, but each model involves giving people reason to want to join your team and a deliberate decision among both the hiring office and the applicant as to whether or not it’s a good fit. It can get very personal and it should be.

I am a proud member of the US Navy. We as a Service give young men and women reason to join our Navy team and there is, in fact, a process by which others decide if a potential recruit is going to make a good Sailor. And yes, things may get personal in the recruitment process, as it should be; joining our team is serious business and not cheap, so it is paramount that we get it right. Generally speaking, that is where personalization ends, especially with our enlisted teammates. As I prepared for my current assignment as Commanding Officer, I began to reach out to potential recruits from across the Navy and asked them to consider joining me at what was then my future team. They may not have been excited about the rather insular Command they would potentially join and they may not have been particularly excited about the part of the world that they would be calling home, but those who took me up on the offer were very interested in working together toward a common goal, whatever goal we decided to make ours. The Navy doesn’t normally accommodate units attempting to recruit specific talent to their team (a few special warfare units being the exception) and instead prefers to use impersonal processes and a third party (we call them Detailers and Placement Officers) to match talent to vacancy on behalf of the talent and the teams with the vacancies. Fortunately, I knew our third parties and they were willing partners on my recruiting experiment. Of the individuals I recruited, those who wanted to join our team did, in fact, receive orders to do just that. Our third parties stepped aside and allowed us to make things personal and it has made all of the difference.

The best teams, whether they be in sports, academia, business, military, or on the playground, are the best because they make it personal. They don’t rely solely on sterile processes and external bodies to build a team on their behalf. And once that team is formed, they continue to make things personal, to connect on the human level, and to keep their shared objective at the forefront. In my world, too many people are forced to join teams they don’t want to be on, are forced upon teams that may not need them, or are accommodated for reasons other than making us a more lethal fighting force. I prefer to make business personal. I believe third party models may scale better, but they don’t generate better outcomes. And I believe the team “hiring” the individual ought to play a significant role in deciding who joins their team. After all, leaders build teams. That building process begins long before new talent arrives on station. It begins by giving people reason to want to join your team, identifying specific talent that will take the team to the next level, and further developing them as individuals for as long as they are on the team. Teams are built, they don’t just take shape on their own. They require personal involvement by leaders at every level.

  • Are you giving others reason to join your team?
  • Are you bringing on the right teammates or relying on an arbiter?
  • Are you making business personal?