Looking for that black sheep.

Raise your hand if you’ve dreaded hiring and building a team, (everyone raises their hands), me too. For me, I’ve decided to buck the system since it wasn’t working for our team. I don’t necessarily care what your credentials are, where you volunteered, and what you think your five year goal is, what I care about is who you are as a person, and are you willing to give it all for those whom you will soon call your teammates?

Building a team is work a lot of people dread, and there’s no surprise why. There’s fear in it, and honestly speaking, dread in having to train, track and watch over your new prodigy. In the end, even with as much information as you can get, in my mind, it comes down to a gut call. 

I found that for our team, it’s best when I ask strange questions, since we are truly looking for those that see this world differently. I ask about favorite television shows, their music choices, pet peeves, how they start to visualize a problem, when do they think the problem is solved, what kind of car do they wish they were driving, favorite colors. There’s not a lot of room for “tell me about yourself” and “tell me where you imagine yourself in five years” in my interview process. I’m not hiring an employee, I’m hiring a person, with all their messy contradictions. So I look for a person who’s going to get a weird question, laugh or maybe mull it over for a minute, and then get weird right back. They’re people who might not fit everywhere, who would feel chafed by a regular 9-to-5 and like to live on the peripheral, not in the stream. I need to know, right away in that first conversation, that they’re going to look me in the eye, tell me what they really think - and not be afraid to let themselves go.

I always ask whether they’re willing and able to take an idea and run with it. This might seem like a simple question. But it’s not. It gets at something lurking in the shadows: fear, excitement, possibility. If someone tells me they need their work carefully defined for them, I know that despite their talents, they’re not right for this team. That’s all right! Not everyone is a good fit for us and we aren’t apologetic for that, it’s best we all know it from the beginning and not find it out later. I want for them what I want for my team, a good fit that elevates them, and we might not be it.

Every so often, though, someone hears that question and it ignites something in them. They say “Yes, I can,” in a way that doesn’t mean “maybe” or “if I have to.” They say “Yes, I can and what if we did it like this…,” and in that moment, a part of them lights up. I can usually hear it in their voice: a reassessment of what they’re getting themselves into. A new exhilaration. An opportunity to take their talent and stretch it in new directions comes along, and they leap at the chance. There’s a great podcast called “How I Built This,” in which entrepreneurs talk about how they built their businesses. In the episode about building Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard talks about hiring employees that are independent - fiercely independent - so independent that they’re almost unemployable elsewhere. I look for that same fierce independence. When I ask if someone can run with an idea and they tell me “Yes, that sounds amazing,” I know we’re going to go places and then they better take it and run with it. 

And so our team doesn’t look like the one you’d find in most offices. It’s full of risk takers, challenge seekers, people who have the vision to see a half-finished puzzle and a box of pieces and put the rest of it together, maybe in spite of what the picture might show. I often say that my role is to build out 50% of an idea, to structure parameters or bullet points with an end expectation, and then to hand it off to the teammate whose expertise will carry it to the finish line through their thoughts and talents, mistakes included. There’s a lot of trust built into that with abundant freedom, and when we couple that with loyalty, respect and promise for our client, we see movement, discovery and growth.

One of the most thrilling parts of working with a team like this is the solutions that arise, organically, in response to what we do together. I hire the person, mostly never knowing where they fit but just knowing they belong here, with us. With this team, I don’t need to be the one who knows everything. I can ask questions, toss out ideas, and pose problems. With this open philosophy, each member of the Kinship finds where they they belong and then we watch them excel, becoming something incredible. I ask for results, and provide them the freedom and capacity to solve through creativity, wit, grit and intuition. 

It’s just like that feeling of finally, finally finding the puzzle piece that fits, holding it in your hand, and knowing without having to think about it exactly where it goes.

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