Tough Interview Question - Are you a team player?

Are you a team player?

Similar interview questions:
Do you like working in a team?
Are you better on a team or working by yourself?
Tell me about a team project and your contribution.

Why the interviewer is asking this question:
The interviewer wants to know how well you will perform in a team environment. This is a closed-end question which could be answered yes/no, but the interviewer will typically probe further for specifics. This can be a difficult question for an interviewer to probe, since almost everyone answers yes to the question and then tries to back it up with team results. One of the most difficult aspects of interviewing is understanding what the candidate accomplished vs. what the candidate's team accomplished. And did the team accomplish the results because of the candidate or in spite of the candidate. It's common for a high performing team to have one (or two or three) team members who are not producing like the other members of the team. So a good interviewer will seek to probe into your specific role, interaction within the team and contributions to the results.

The best approach to answering this question:
Give an example of how you have worked in a positive way with your team. For managers, this can take on a second dimension of managing a team. For most, however, it should be focused on how we interact with and communicate with others at a peer level on a work team and the results achieved, making note of outstanding contributions to the team. Final note: in spite of the temptation, do not answer with sports analogies or sports cliches.

An example of how to best answer this question for experienced candidates:
"Yes I am. An example of this is my current team, the Global Standards Project, where we are all working together with a variety of background and skills to produce a result which none of us could have achieved individually. So it's important that we all communicate well with each other on an ongoing basis. Some of this takes place in our weekly status meeting, where we get together to update on our progress toward the goal. But I think the most important aspect is the ad hoc meetings that take place during the week between different team members. One of the members of our team taught us how to scrum on problems and now we are all using it as a way to both communicate and involve others to move the project forward. These scrum sessions are usually impromptu and might only last for 10-15 minutes, but they help to get team members unstuck on problems they are facing so that they don't have to wait until the Friday status meeting to discuss. So we are all staying in constant communication with each other to not only reach our own goals, but also to help others in reaching their project goals. Net result is that we already have four distinct deliverables and have already recorded more than $350,000 in cost savings in just the past two months. And, based on my interaction with the team, I am currently being trained as a Scrum Master to lead future scrum sessions."

An example of how to best answer this question for entry level candidates:
"Yes I am. An example of this was with my summer internship team, the Global Standards Project, where we were all working together with a variety of background and skills to produce a result which none of us could have achieved individually. It's important to note that I joined an already established team, so it was important to me to communicate with others and make sure I was on track for delivering my part of the project. Although my deliverable was a small part of the overall project, there were several team dependencies based on my ability to deliver. So I not only kept everyone current during the weekly meetings, I also worked closely with several key team members throughout the week to make sure I kept my portion of the project on track. The end result is that I delivered on time and within budget. The entire project met its deliverables and they are now on to the next phase of the project."

An example of how you should not answer this question:
"You bet I am! That is, if I'm on the right team. If I'm not on the right team, and that's happened to me, I will work to get moved to a different team. Just like LeBron James had to make the move to Miami, I've had to move around teams to get on the right one. Although I guess I wouldn't move back to Cleveland, but you get the idea. If someone can get me the ball when I'm hot, hey I'm smoking hot. Surround me with other superstars and I'll be a superstar, too! So now I'm looking to get off my team and join another team so that I can be my best. My current team was good for a while, but now they kinda suck and I'm doing all the work. I want to move to a team where everyone plays their best and we can win a championship."

Remember to answer each interview question behaviorally, whether it is a behavioral question or not. The easiest way to do this is to use an example from your background and experience. Then use the S-T-A-R approach to make the answer a STAR: talk about a Situation or Task (S-T), the Action you took (A) and the Results achieved (R). This is what makes your interview answer uniquely yours and will make your answer a star!

Further review: know the answers to these Standard Interview Questions to be fully prepared for your interview!

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