Are we hiring a good team player? 8 teamwork interview questions to find out

A group of business people holding a flower in a circle.

As featured in the Law Society’s InsideOut magazine – May 2022 edition

All organisations value teamwork. Great results are achieved with the contribution, efforts and expertise of multiple resources, disciplines and skillsets.

This article suggests 8 teamwork interview questions to help find out whether our candidate is a team player who will likely fit in our team. The aim of these questions is to dig deeper than the FAQ ‘How do you feel about working in a team?’ Before turning to these questions, however, it is helpful revisiting for a moment our vision of a successful team and the associated definition of effective teamwork.

What are we truly looking for? Nailing down our idea of ‘successful teamwork’

In Laura’s legal team, the business priority is producing high-quality and high-volume work and the team values, which are repeatedly reinforced, gravitate around reliability and consistent performance. Charles’s legal team was created recently and the culture is informal; creativity and initiative are highly praised and good team players are seen as self-starters. Hannah’s legal department has been led under a consistent management style for many years. The team’s culture is formal; conversations tend to happen 1 to 1 rather than openly and communication follows a top-down approach. A good team player in Hannah’s team knows their place.

When we talk about teamwork as part of the interview process, are we specific enough about what exactly we are looking for? Teamwork success is ultimately the result of our very specific definition of how a team should work together. 

Teamwork interview questions

Once we have nailed down our idea of teamwork, the interview process is our opportunity to select the right fit for our team by understanding as much as we can about our candidates’ ideas of teamwork. Teamwork skills are difficult to test in action as part of the interview process. Most selection processes, indeed, devote limited time to understanding candidates’ approaches to teamwork when compared to the attention given to, for example, professional experience. However, in the vast majority of teams I have worked on, the most recurrent frictions often came from quasi-irreconcilable approaches, lack of trust (and consequent lack of collaboration) and misaligned priorities.

This part of the interview aims at understanding whether a candidate’s approach to teamwork will bring positive relationships in your workplace. Whether you are recruiting for a team of 2 or a team of 10, this part of the interview is also an opportunity to convey your vision of teamwork. Consider, therefore, asking one or more of the following questions:

1. In your view, what are the greatest skills a team should have in order to be successful?

We are asking to deliver a candidate team vision in order to determine whether this fits with our vision. In Laura’s team, for example, reliability, great communication and a high sense of ownership will reveal an alignment in priorities.

2. What are your greatest teamwork skills?

We want to hear how a candidate ultimately sees himself. The first answer is where, generally, we place the greatest value.

3. Who was the most helpful team member you worked with and why?

Role models offer insights into the vision and true collaboration mindset of our candidate. We tend to like personalities whose traits are common to ours. Charles will love to hear examples that display the capacity to come up with creative solutions and innovation.

4. How do you give feedback to your team members?

In essence, we are considering whether our candidate can communicate effectively in a team environment. The answers will reveal whether our candidate is a high-ego or low-ego professional and whether their approach is constructive and collaborative.

5. When deliverables are ambitious and time-pressured, what is the most important thing you do?

We are testing whether the candidate has good judgement, common sense (which is not always common!) and whether they can interact with others in a productive manner under tight deadlines – the norm in most legal roles.

6. What do you view as the most significant indicators of a happy team?

A happy team is a successful team. This question goes to the candidate’s view of the real benefits of teamwork in an organisation. For example, in a happy team, there are quality time moments, including social moments, because the team members support one another’s efforts.

7. What do you think is your consistent contribution to a team’s success?

We are stress testing question n. 2: is the candidate’s regular contribution to the team in alignment with the ranking of teamwork skills they described?

8. What role do you usually play in a team setting?

Ultimately, unless we are constructing an entirely new team, we are not interviewing for a generic role, but for a specific contribution to an existing team. We are considering whether a particular candidate will fit in with our team’s needs and dynamics. Whether, for example, our candidate narrative displays that extra degree of initiative our organisation needs for successful teamwork.

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