Great Team Interviews: Speaking with Staff About What Makes Their Teams Great

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Q. Why is your team a great team?

A. One of the things I think we can all agree makes us a strong company is that we always put the customer and their needs first. I feel we go above and beyond in our service and that is something you don’t see often…I believe that giving the customers the highest quality experience we can will eventually pay off in the long run through repeat business and referrals. While we could make a quick dollar by overcharging our customers and cutting back service, we would lose that relationship in the long run. This has to do with what we believe in as a whole. While it’s important to be profitable, it’s equally important that we do it the right way and think long-term. To sum it up, I think our success is a reflection of our leadership and a core group of people that truly believe in our company’s mission.–David Zanella

A. [The company] is team-driven; creativity and entrepreneurism is encouraged; we are detailed and deadline driven; we celebrate our accomplishments and create plans of action to overcome our challenges and weaknesses; we have dedicated team members that are equally driven, motivated, and have a strong work ethic; and our work is always changing and improving. Our team strives for excellence every day and is never satisfied—we’re always looking at how we can enhance our processes and products to be more efficient, effective, beneficial to our team, and provide higher quality and products that clients truly value. –Ginny Byrd Porter

A. There are two major parts to building a team: hiring the right people and working in harmony with the mission in mind. The following are some ways I deal with the latter:

  • Communication/know your people
    • Review each other’s leadership profiles on a regular basis as a reminder how best to communicate with each other—we are all wired differently! Communication is key! Be brutally honest.
  • Strategic plan

    • Gather input from all team members. There is always more motivation/buy-in when everyone has input. A “Wish List” is a huge part of our strategic plan as it gives everyone something to look forward to “when we can afford it.”
  • Job descriptions/task lists

    • Review periodically giving the opportunity to add and delete items so all are on the same page as to what is expected.
  • Problem solving/collaboration/listening

    • Two (or more) heads are better than one! Work together as a team to address issues. Everyone needs to be heard.
  • Ask for help

    • With a small staff, everyone needs help occasionally. Offer help and ask for help. Everyone will feel needed/wanted.

–Kim Inman

A. Our team is great for three main reasons: 1. Diversity – Each person brings a unique contribution and background to ensure success. 2. Commitment – Everyone on our team is committed to our company’s mission and values, and it plays out in the work we do. 3. Extra Degree – Everyone is willing to go the extra mile – not settling for good but great. –Julie Neeley

Q. What motivates you? What excites you? Why do you do what you do?

A. Like many people on the team, what initially drew me to the company was that it is a for-profit company with nonprofit values. I truly believe in the mission and purpose of our company as it drives me to work hard every day not only for our company but for our team as well…With our work, we are able to have a tremendous reach although we often do not see the impact first-hand. However, it is through our customers (acknowledgement, referrals, relationships) and news that we receive (such as recent public recognition at the local, state, and federal levels of our work) that I know we are truly making a difference. On a personal level, I find it fulfilling to see positive things happen. I am an action oriented person that feels frustrated if movement and change is not happening. Also, profitability is important to me as I feel that people can do great work to enhance our communities and world but should be well compensated and the business should be profitable. –Ginny Byrd Porter

A. I am motivated by winning grants but also through learning experiences when I do not. I do what I do because it provides: opportunities to have impact on the lives of children, a chance to research and learn about topics that I may not have otherwise investigated, and keeping my skills sharp…I could easily go off on my “own” and write grants independently, and folks often ask me why I do not. I think it is the draw of the team effort and multiple expertise to produce high-quality grants that motivate me that I cannot achieve with excitement on my own. –Julie Neeley

A. I love our team, our customers, and the work that we do every day. We spend so much of our lives at work, you have to enjoy what you do and who you do it with or perhaps you aren’t in the right job…As a leader, I want to help each team member grow professionally and feel supported personally because they are important to me. Helping our team members maximize their potential is at the top of my priority list, and that motivates me to do my very best every day…Each new customer is another opportunity for us to make a difference in the lives of others. Our team really values each customer and puts a lot of effort into building lasting relationships with them. We have a strong sense of commitment to helping our customers succeed and never letting them down. We always aim to exceed customer expectations and provide high-quality products. We also check-in with customers regularly to solicit their feedback on ways to improve our work. Our team places a priority on customer service…I love the work that we do because it is meaningful and I know that we are making this world a better place. Our work is constantly evolving and provides new opportunities for us to learn and grow as professionals and individuals. I like the challenge of learning new things, competing with some of the top districts in the nation, and always trying to improve our products, processes, and services. –Stephanie Marshall

A. I like knowing that the work we do makes a difference in this world. It also allows me to use my best talents to achieve a “greater good.” I’m constantly learning new things and am seldom bored. I’d be lying if I said I don’t also enjoy winning…over the past several years our process has evolved so that we work in team configurations and that’s strengthened our bond and made those grants truly a team effort and our wins truly team wins. The joy is certainly sweeter when shared and so are our burdens. –Dee Geddings

A. [W]e are fortunate enough to work for a company that cares greatly about the well-being of their employees. The benefits and quality of life that you provide for us are a big motivator. There are times when we have bad days, but when that’s going on I try to take a step back for a few minutes and look where I am now compared to where I was before. This is a great motivator and helps me be a better leader. –David Zanella

A. I am motivated every day by the knowledge that all of the little and big things I do will join with what others on my team are doing to make a huge difference…Rather than spinning endlessly around the world’s problems, we are working together to create, implement, and prove solutions. –April Calnin

A. Interesting work, the fact that every workday is different, and the opportunity to help our customers shape their vision and ideas into a program on paper motivates me and excites me. I believe that our work has a positive impact on the target audience of each program we develop in partnership with our customers…I truly believe in the value of our work and wanted to be surrounded by people that bring a similar energy level and motivation to their work as I do. –Kristin LaRoche

A. Anonymous staff member:

  • Wanting to contribute to something greater than myself.
  • Excellence in all that I do.
  • Commitment to getting the job done.
  • Learning.
  • Striving for efficient and effective work.
  • Being viewed as a committed team member.
  • Being viewed as a resource.

A. To know that something I wrote or some piece of guidance that I provided helped to enable [our clients’] work to enact positive personal and social change is immensely gratifying…In regard to our work as a team, I am motivated by a sense of mutual investment and a shared intention to serve with excellence. Before I began working with the company, I was employed by a series of struggling nonprofit organizations. While the leaders of these organizations were well meaning, they did not take a team approach, and due to lack of proper financing and infrastructure, were unable to offer their employees the support needed (regular pay, strong leadership, a voice in decision making) to build and grow a high-quality staffing base. This resulted in wild variations in professional standards that often sacrificed the quality of the services provided to the community, and ultimately our job security. When I interviewed here, I made it clear that I was looking for employment with an agency that would invest in me as professional, so that I might utilize and cultivate my skills to return that investment to the company and the people we serve. More than three years later I am still here, and the time, energy, and support of the team continues to motivate me to provide my very best to my co-workers and clients. –Jenny Clark

Q. How did your team build its chemistry?

A. I believe that our excellent chemistry is built upon respect for each other. We all recognize the strengths that each of us brings to the team and we use those to our advantage to collaborate with each other to produce the highest quality of work. In addition, our high standard of the characteristics that we look for in potential team members helps to support our excellent chemistry. We hire slowly and carefully. All team members have an opportunity to participate in the hiring process, interview the candidates, and provide feedback. When we interview, we have a clear idea of what we are looking for and we do not settle for less—even if this means the position is vacant for a period of time. When we are not busy with our work, we find time to meet in person, celebrate our accomplishments, and most importantly have fun! –Kristin LaRoche

A. I try to make sure that my teammates know how much I respect and admire their work and guidance. I offer my help to support their needs whenever I can. If we are encountering difficulty within our work, I try to craft solutions for consideration by the team and request and incorporate their input on my ideas before taking action. I honor my personal and professional promises and work to be flexible as needed to support our work. I am “real” and honest, and strive to serve with integrity at all times. I also like to crack jokes, give hugs, and tell stories, which my teammates accept (and often endure) with grace.–Jenny Clark

A. I think it’s because we work under extreme conditions (i.e. tight deadlines, limited personnel resources, shifting customer demands, difficult odds) and that we emphasize teamwork throughout our processes, be it a deadline or just a customer demand we’re responding to. When you’re working under those kinds of very stressful circumstances, you really get to know your teammates—for better or for worse! We are extremely fortunate that in our particular set of team dynamics, the very best of our character traits emerge under stressful situations. And when the bad ones do emerge or we’re faced with a tough situation, we’re good at talking each other down from those proverbial ledges. We all know that there is no job “beneath” anyone on that team and if it needs to be done, someone will volunteer to do it, no questions asked. I know that if I’m working on a weekend or late at night, more than likely, so is someone else from my team—if not every single one of us. Those kinds of circumstances build camaraderie for sure.

[W]e are all absolutely obsessive-compulsive, perfectionist workaholics…but we also make each other laugh and we try to do our best to de-stress each other as much as possible. We try not to take our stresses out on one another and help and support each other how and where we can. Traits we value and share as a team include truth, honesty, respect, consistency, reliability, and commitment, and we try and exemplify that to and for each other and that produces implicit trust and loyalty amongst our team members and there is no better glue for a team than that. And if we hire someone that doesn’t exhibit those traits—they’re out the door. That sounds harsh, and it is, but it ensures that our team members mesh together well and bring out, demand, and get the very best in one another—and in our final product. –Dee Geddings

A. I have seen [the team’s] chemistry as I have watched ideas flow and bounce off of one another in meetings. I have seen very little judgment or assumptions made about individuals. I have seen respect for one another’s skills and ideas. Despite the possibility for competiveness, it has not seemed to show up as team assignments are made. In every other team I have worked on, the leadership sets the standard for how people are to relate to one another. I have been on teams with communication problems, ego issues, favoritism and trust issues, all stemming from the top. Here, our senior team leader is highly competent, servant-minded, supportive, an advocate for her team, focused on equipping and encouraging each member, and takes responsibility for the big picture vision and decisions. Each team member has a part to play, but a lot can be said for the power of a leader in fostering or hindering cohesiveness of a team. –April Calnin

A. I think our chemistry is built on trust, respect, loyalty, honesty, and commitment to each other. Everyone on our team has each other’s back. We care about each other and go above and beyond to bring each other up and never let the others down. If you are putting in extra hours, you can guarantee you’re not alone. Spending time getting to know each other and caring about the individual, not just the employee helps to build that loyalty and trust. Since we work from separate offices, we make a real concerted effort to work as a team. Being intentional in our interactions leads to more meaningful exchanges. We also hire as a team, involving each team member in the interview and decision-making process. –Stephanie Marshall

A. Get out of the office a couple of times a year and do something fun as a team! We recently got together at the lake–one of our team members is afraid of the water so we put her on a float and tied all of ours together around her “for protection.” She was relaxed and felt like she “conquered a fear!”

Review the culture statement annually, individually and then as a team. Look for and discuss specific items/words in the culture statement that need addressing and then discuss how to implement. Some items may be personality/attitude related and need to be addressed on an individual basis such as: positive attitude, be open to constructive criticism, dominating; some items may be work ethic related and need to be placed on one’s personal goals and objectives list such as: time management, efficiency, accountability; other items may be strategic therefore they should be placed on the strategic plan, such as: expanding knowledge, maintain high standards & quality, reduce stress. –Kim Inman

A. We build our chemistry through: respect, gratitude, good communication, best effort and asking for help, dependability and meeting deadlines, problem solving rather than finger pointing, and care for the person not just the work. Central to this building process is the ongoing opportunity to get feedback from others and continue to improve our work. Everyone is valued as a leader for different reasons, and it is not about titles. –Julie Neeley

A. Although it’s been said and written about by many people, I believe building excellent chemistry starts with our hiring and orientation process. We are thoughtful and intentional in our hiring process. Even when we are hiring for a position that really needed to filled weeks/months ago, we do not choose candidates that are not the best fit for our team. Our goal is to make the best long-term decision for our team…The team as a whole has input into the hiring decision but ultimately the senior team leader makes the final decision. Once the new team member is on-board, we take them through a lengthy orientation process that includes all members of our team (this work is done in-person and virtually). Even after the orientation process is complete, we are intentional with how we bring the new team member onboard with projects…Our hiring, orientation, and team member building process is lengthy and requires more work from our team but I’ve found that it creates substantially less work in the long-run and allows us to be able to serve as mentors rather than managers. In our day-to-day work, the focus is on accomplishing our work as a team…Therefore, we are all responsible for our successes and failures. Also, each member on our team serves in a leadership role where they are responsible for being the expert/go-to-person on a project or for a particular area of content. This creates an atmosphere of everyone feeling they have ownership and are equally important members to the team (our environment is one of collective leadership/contributions and ownership/responsibility). By working together on projects, our team members build strong relationships with each other and are able to build trust (which I think is essential). Our leadership team also works to foster the relationships of our team by ensuring we have at least four face-to-face meetings a year, having virtual happy hours, and incorporating fun games and activities into our work schedules that build knowledge of each other on a person level. Also, I believe our team and individual goal setting and employee performance reviews fosters a team approach as well. As a team, we establish team goals for the year and then team members are asked to develop their individual goals which are reflective of what the overall team is working to accomplish for the year. During EPRs, we discuss individual successes, challenges, needs, etc. but the focus is as much on how the person’s contributions and challenges impact the team. Through our layered approach of embedding someone into our team culture, I believe folks feel not only a personal responsibility for the work that is done but also a responsibility to the team. –Ginny Byrd Porter

A. Anonymous:

  • Spending time together in person as often as possible.
  • Working hard, but also finding time to have fun together and get to know each other on a personal level.
  • We are all solution- and task-oriented and are willing to put ideas on the table to improve something that may not be working.
  • Everyone is willing to step in and help when needed.
  • The team communicates openly on our successes and our failures.
  • Having everyone contribute to the team in a leadership role (i.e., special projects, team meetings, retreats).
  • Learning from one another.

Q. What do you love about your company and its team members?

A. What’s not to love? Each member of our team brings their own unique personality, perspective, and expertise. While we are very like-minded in some regards, we encourage individual thinking and respect each other’s opinions. Our team is passionate about the work, strives for excellence, and goes above and beyond in their work. We’re highly organized, positive thinkers and we don’t allow negative attitudes or complaining. There is a strong commitment from everyone to the success of our team. They are also a really fun, smart group of people with a positive outlook on life. We aren’t just colleagues, we’re friends. –Stephanie Marshall

A. They are just an amazing group of human beings—smart, funny, kind, caring, and very passionate, energized, and dedicated to the work we do, our clients, and each other, not to mention the quality of the work we produce. And beyond that, they’re great friends and they’re just fun to hang around—and who doesn’t want to work with a group of their friends? Some of us have been together so long that we can read each other’s body language, expressions, and detect the tone of voice on videoconferences and phone calls—almost reading each other’s minds at this point—and I really value that kind of relationship with each and every one of them. We have each other’s backs and that’s highly reassuring—and again, makes our team stronger and tighter. –Dee Geddings

A. My most favorite thing about our team is the passion and dedication that everyone brings to the table. Everyone pulls their own weight and if you need help, someone is always there to jump in and provide assistance. We have an open culture where we can freely voice our opinions, discuss, and then come to a decision as a group about how to proceed. –Kristin LaRoche

A. Anonymous:

  • Knowing that we all have the same drive and commitment to high quality work.
  • During really busy times, knowing that everyone is working just as hard as I am.
  • That our work really is better because of the collective contributions of the team.
  • We all respect one another personally and professionally. We strive to be respectful of people’s talents and interests.

A. I appreciate that our company does not operate like a traditional office, and in turn displays a trust and respect for their team members’ ability to accomplish their work. I appreciate that the scope of our work spans across several states and that technology has been harnessed to ensure that the distance does not hinder productivity. I appreciate the efforts made to minimize the weaknesses in teamwork and company culture that can arise from working remotely. I appreciate that I am not micro-managed. I appreciate that when I came onboard, orientation and trainings were planned with every member of the team and that I had in-person employee reviews. Despite the distance, I have grown to feel connected with the team. –April Calnin

A. While we are all different, I love that we all seem to have a keen focus on high expectations, delivering high-quality work and products, and attention to detail. While work is important, I love that we can have fun and enjoy being around each other – even late at night, when times are stressful, or during times when there is a mouse in the house at a staff retreat (haha!). –Julie Neeley

A. I love our team’s commitment to excellence! As individuals, I genuinely enjoy working with, consulting, and learning from every member of my team. I learn something new every day! –Jenny Clark

Q. What keeps your excitement alive while doing hard work?

A. I find great fulfillment in impressing myself with my work. I want to make each project I work on better than the last. It takes a lot of energy and effort to produce an excellent product, so I try to expend my energy and effort based on the potential impact and outcome of the task I am working on…On top of that, I don’t want to let down my teammates. I hate the thought of them having to do extra work to make up for my lack of forethought, even if just a poorly worded email makes someone else do more homework, I see how that decreases the productivity of the entire team and reduces the potential outcome. –April Calnin

A. I want to do good and meaningful work that helps to improve people’s lives. I want to make my leaders and co-workers happy that they work with me, and proud of the products we create together. I want our customers to be pleased that they chose us and eager to work with us again. –Jenny Clark

A. If we all counted the hours we work each week, we would all probably exceed our company standard of 37 hours a week…For me personally, I try to envision the end product for our customers and that helps to keep me going. Moreover, our work is not easy and has its stressful moments so knowing when to step away and give yourself a break is important to keeping the excitement and drive going. –Kristin LaRoche

A. I work hard because it provides sense of success and stimulation and helps me grow by getting comfortable being uncomfortable and stepping outside the box. Ultimately, it goes back to my personal values – faith and family are first; work is second. I enjoy what I do, and never “work” a day in my life. –Julie Neeley

A. Although I’m highly self-motivated, I also thrive on the energy that comes from working with our team. I want to do my very best every day so that I don’t let them down, and I know they are doing the same. –Stephanie Marshall

A. Anonymous:

  • Realizing that often our customers would not win without us.
  • Knowing that we are some of the best grant writers in the business.
  • Bringing a skill to districts and organizations that may lack the capacity and resources on their own.
  • Knowing that our work generates new opportunities for children and adults.

Additional Comments

I’m highly confident that our team could face down, survive, and thrive during a zombie apocalypse (seriously—you do not want to see what some of them are capable of doing with kitchen tools—but let me just say that it’s highly impressive). –Dee Geddings

I have to say that in all of my years at the company, I think this is the most talented, passionate, hard-working, dedicated, fun loving team in our history. I feel very fortunate to call these individuals not only coworkers but friends. –Kristin LaRoche