I work in an organization with nearly 40% annual turnover. In addition we often find ourselves shuffling our talented people into ad-hoc teams in order to meet and exceed our customer expectations. Over the past year one of the most important things I’ve had to learn about our team members isn’t where they’ve previously worked, but rather what their response is when I ask them to list their top three hobbies.
This short interview question reveals a great deal of bias (not a negative word) towards how they see the world and how they prioritize their time after work. For our teams to be successful we have to have the right blend of nerdiness (we do work IT after all) and practical decision making.
The question on hobbies doesn’t stop being useful for team assignments, it’s useful long term as well. I’m rather candid with my employee philosophy. My goal is to help them be their better selves–and yes sometimes that involves discipline, but often times it doesn’t. One way to do this is to personalize the common vision leaders are supposed to share with their team. Knowing my team mate’s hobbies allows me to personalize how I communicate that common vision. Hey team, this next project is going to help you get better at X or Y (insert something they’re interested in).
I have one young team member who’s found himself a bit out of water doing clerical work and having to learn the nuances of formatting for our organization’s standards. He’s also a big Star Wars fan. One day he created a memo detailing a policy about discussing the spoilers in the latest Star Wars movie and tried to sneak it into a stack of things I needed to sign. Because he wanted my signature on it he took extra care to ensure it complied with formatting rules. He bit his lower lip as I moved my way through the stack reading from top to bottom. When I got his memo I found no errors or objections to how it would change behavior in the company.
I signed it and because he felt like I’ve invested in him and his hobbies I’ve gotten nothing shy of the best quality from this person since. The memo was posted on the front door and added a much needed human dimension to that timeframe at work increasing everyone’s productivity.