By Karishhma Ashwin By Karishhma Ashwin | June 2, 2021 |
Long before making the varsity team affected college acceptance, before basketball and baseball were even invented, or the very first starter pistol was sounded, team sports and games were an essential part of our culture. Cave paintings actually depict wrestling matches as early as 15,300 BC, and an early form of soccer was being played at least by 3000 BC. Like language and the arts, sports are apparently found wherever sophisticated human civilizations are. When you find something that has evolved independently across all cultures, geographies and belief systems, then chances are, it is there because it is necessary for human beings to survive and thrive, form complex relationships, and accomplish complex tasks together.
Sports and games don't often get a lot of credit for their role in human achievement. National sports teams are powerful economic engines today, but they haven't always been that. And attending a major sporting event, or participating in college or high school sports is usually viewed as a way to let off steam, stay fit, and gain discipline.
Then there's the importance of teamwork, which certainly is frequently discussed. But the context is often a bit strange: outside of those pesky college applications, promoting sports and games as a way to develop teamwork skills only comes up when the existence of a team or a franchise is threatened, when budget cuts rear their ugly heads. Suddenly the talk turns to themes of teamwork as a way to keep the sport.
But once people graduate from high school and college, team sports retreat in their mission, and return to a way to stay fit and blow off steam. But parents fighting to save their children's favorite sport actually have hit upon something that's fundamentally truer than they might imagine. And as businesses start to part with old-fashioned hierarchies, and embrace business models that embrace a structure more like, say, a baseball team made up of players with different specialties, an intuitive understanding of how to operate within that structure can be profoundly helpful.
Obviously team sports are not the only activity that builds teamwork. Theater, debate, band and choir are excellent vehicles for understanding how your skills contribute to a group achievement, and that your role may take center stage, or be in the wings, but that's no reflection on your own importance to the group's success. Theater and debate also have something in common with team sports…when someone else metaphorically drops the ball, a good team player will rush in to save them…an excellent quality to have in a team-oriented organization.
All of that anthropology is simply to preface something that initially might have sounded odd, but now should make more sense. If you want your complex organization to run more like a team and less like a top-down bureaucracy, in addition to the usual job experience, it might be enlightening to start asking potential job candidates about their experience of playing on or performing in any kind of team. In this context, it's a rather obvious question most interviewers neglect to ask.
Kris Lindahl, a Midwestern real estate tycoon who's gone from a startup brokerage in 2018 to the largest independent brokerage in the country and surpassing $1 billion in sales, has been a visionary in this regard. Lindahl developed a way of attracting those with a team mindset by offering a free real estate scholarship, and then specifically seeking out applicants with backgrounds in the service and hospitality industries.
"I started there, because I already knew that hospitality workers have great people skills. And beyond a resume, communication, empathy and relationship-building is the differentiator between a high performing agent and one who never seems to thrive," Lindahl begins. "But then something really clicked. Another thing that poorly performing agents seemed to often have in common is their lone wolf mentality, and their discomfort with working with others. They also didn't like group activities and team sports in school."
Many professions have the unfortunate problem of the wrong people being attracted to them for the wrong reasons. And far too many real estate agents decided to get their license because they couldn't stand working for someone else, or being accountable to anyone. Fast forward a year, and they find they don't enjoy 90% of what the job entails: working for clients in high pressure situations, recovering from setbacks quickly (and taking responsibility for them), and adjusting to accommodate client needs and schedules.
Lindahl may very well have hit on a valuable interview question for any organization looking to improve hiring, and almost magically improve the odds that a new hire will do their best to work well with others. And it's a question that's just a little bit under the radar. It has the guise of an innocent "getting to know you" question, where there seems less reason to fib, and candidates are unlikely to have a prepped, vetted answer.
So far, the corporate scoreboard is in Lindahl's favor. He's had to scale up a team very quickly to expand from his home base in Minnesota, to a team that now also successfully operates throughout Wisconsin and Colorado, and will soon add Iowa and the Dakotas. They had a record-breaking year last year, and maintain a culture where senior agents keep an eye on the rookies to make sure they do well and get the encouragement they need.
So far, Lindahl also doesn't seem to have the attrition problem others do. And when rivals try to poach his talent, they often strike out…not understanding that Lindahl's team players also have an inherent sense of loyalty. Go figure.