Building a Team

Gareth I. Jones
9 min readMar 26


Make sure every step is in the right direction when building your team.

Photo by Harry Skiff for TownSq

Building a team, creating jobs, and replacing yourself is one of the greatest privileges of starting and growing a company.

But you can sleepwalk into building a bad culture and have the wrong people with the wrong skills in the wrong positions if you don’t take a step back at first and understand exactly why you’re hiring.

Some of the reasons might seem obvious — you might want to free up your time or introduce new skills into the mix, you might need the additional capacity to deliver or need to scale up to match customer expectations.

But there are other angles to consider. Does the new hire unlock new audiences? This is important in the world of coworking, if you’re trying to target a specific market or group of people then hiring someone who has that network, or who can speak with authenticity and authority on the topic can help you to reach new people.

Do you want a leader, who will take increased responsibility down the line, step up and eventually direct you? Do you want someone who will come in for 18 months or two years and then move on?

It’s important to consider these things and map out whether the role is going to be attractive to that profile of person, or more directly will you address them and make clear that the role is for them?

What Duties Need Covering?

An important exercise to cover off is listing out all of the duties that you would ideally like to have covered. These need to be as granular and specific as possible. It can’t be “attract new customers”, it can’t even be “manage social media”, it needs to be more specific. “Capture content for social media”, “write and prepare social media content”, and “schedule and publish social media content”. Even something as seemingly obvious as social media can be broken into many subtasks that might not be the responsibility of a single person.

When you think you’ve finished your list of duties, push through. Keep going for at least another ten minutes. I also share this advice with business model canvas users, the really good stuff tends to come through when you keep pushing beyond the comfort zone.

In our business we look at breaking things down into today tasks and tomorrow tasks.

Today tasks are things that need completing in the moment. They tend to be urgent, and events that arise in the day-to-day. There’s a big element of firefighting here, and the need to be responsive.

Tomorrow tasks are the plans and things we invest in the future. This could be event planning, marketing, organising and implementing more strategic activities.

People who are good at today tasks aren’t always good at tomorrow tasks, and vice versa. Some people don’t make time to put plans in place and love the hustle and bustle of this moment, whereas others flap and panic when they’re half way through a task and another fire breaks out elsewhere.

It isn’t to say one is better than the other, but you need to recognise what you need in your business.

Mop Bucket Test

One test we do internally to work this out is what we can the mop bucket test — do we think that candidate would roll up their sleeves and get the mop out if there was a big leak in the toilets or would they think that is beneath them? This is an important distinction for us when hiring appropriate people for roles.

If you ask yourself can one person do all of those things then you might introduce other questions like “what tasks do I accept I will have to keep doing” or “do we need to think about hiring multiple people”.

This might not give you nice answers, but it can help to prevent a more important mistake.

Don’t Hire People to Make Your Life Easier

I don’t mean to offend any of the very nice and helpful people we have hired over the years, but people make things complicated. Really bloody complicated.

There are the obvious things like the financial investment, in payroll, buying their equipment and covering their expenses. Then there’s the time cost of appraisals, day-to-day support, and management.

And then there’s when things go badly. The performance management, disciplinaries, covering sickness, compassionate leave and so much more.

Firing and letting go of staff is even harder because of our broken mindsets. The sunk cost fallacy will prevent our ego from admitting we were wrong and that the perfect hire was, in fact, not so perfect.

Then you have the ongoing support needs, hopefully you’re all familiar with this old meme:

If you want the person to grow within your organisation, or if you want someone who has a growth mindset and a bit of ambition about them then you need to give them the environment in which they can grow.

Do you want to hire someone who will be around for a decade or a couple of months? Do you give them job security or prioritise your flexibility with a fixed term contract?

What Is The Role?

All of these considerations will hopefully help you to understand what the role is that is on offer.

Are they coming in at a senior or junior level? If you can’t offer a competitive salary just yet are you considering other incentives like flexible working, equity or even something as major as co-founder status?

Is this a job that could be done as a job share? Is that something you would entertain? Job shares can give you the extra benefit of having a different mindset and skillset in the mix, as well as an extra number to dial if you need someone to step in to cover sickness, but has downsides in that sometimes it can lead to less accountability and determination through focus.

What Are They Doing Now?

If you have a non-traditional job role, then you might not be poaching talent from a competitor or be an obvious next step on their career path.

In our industry, nobody went to their career advisor at 16 and said they want to be a coworking community manager when they’re older.

When you’ve mapped out the duties and have a good idea of what nature of person you’re looking for, think deeply about which other industries possess these skills and values.

In our world, that was hospitality. We want people who care about the visitor experience, have a keen eye for small details, know how to read and manage a P&L, have management and leadership skills but equally are likely to want to reclaim their evenings and weekends as they get older, and want to test themselves in a new environment.

Some of these parallel paths might be obvious and clear, but others less so.

Again, if you have an audience you are confident is going to lead to recruitment success then think about how you title the role or what keywords you use in order to make sure they see it when they’re searching.

What Process to Follow?

Typically you might expect to ask for a CV/resumé and maybe a covering letter (debatable — but I always find them useful), but what else might you ask for that can help you understand if the candidate is right for the role?

One thing we’ve always asked for is a slide deck, this might make some groan but it helps us learn a couple of things:

  • If they ask what a slide deck is then it shows us they don’t even Google things before asking, so they don’t have much initiative
  • What they choose to include or omit tells us what they prioritise and what they find most important
  • It helps us to find out a bit more about their personality, which is important to us
  • The next big point coming up

If you need to find something important out about your next major hire, do you get that from a CV? How else can people show you their true selves? Some examples given were things like open days, or video interviews, but we’ll get onto that next.

Don’t Be Afraid to Make it Difficult

When you’re designing the process, don’t be afraid to set a higher bar on applications to really put people to the test and see how much they want it.

It can help you to see how much desire they have, or how much they’re willing to invest in the application. There’s also a sense of building more value and respect into the role.

I remember seeing the post below from Daniel Simmons at Populate Social which really summed it up for me:

The counter to this is if potential applicants are cynical or see that barrier as one which is not worth trying to leap.

For us, this was not asking for videos as part of the application process. We didn’t feel that would enable us to deliver a fully inclusive recruitment process. Video is not second nature to everyone, so while it might have helped us to understand the character of a candidate better, we figured it would benefit younger and more tech-savvy folks better.

A good example of why it is so important is when the bar is low and you get what looks like a great applicant to interview, only for them to ask a question which shows they haven’t even taken 30 seconds to read your website or Google your company before turning up. You’ve wasted everyone’s time and you can’t carry that lack of initiative in key roles.

My final point on making it difficult though is respecting the time of candidates who won’t get the job. Anyone who has spent any time out of work our seeking opportunities knows just how frustrating it can feel applying for role after role and not getting anywhere.

If you’re asking someone to invest a lot of time, effort, and energy into your process then make sure you’re mindful of respecting them and their expectations. The more you ask of them, the more you should be willing to give them back in the way of feedback and advice on why they were not successful on this occasion.

The Interview

Finally, on to the interview itself. The obvious default here is to arrange one-to-ones, pick five or ten questions, then compare and contrast.

That’s fine, and if it tells you enough then crack on, but this is your opportunity to design a process that really works, not just following the old rulebook for the sake of it.

Do you stick to the formal and traditional panel interview? Do you include a task? Do you force people to endure all of the cringe of a group interview?

We do.

Depending on the role we try to create an exercise which will help them to show us the qualities we are looking for in the role in as relaxed and informal a manner as is possible in an intense and competitive environment.

We lead with the group interview to see how collaborative and open-minded the candidate is, and again try to focus on what they prioritise in an activity, their level of initiative, and the kinds of questions they ask when tasks are particularly vague.

The follow up one-to-one interview then gives us the opportunity to ask the more pressing questions, but with a better understanding of what we have seen through the CV/slide deck sift and the group interviews.

We know from the activities how good they are at things like time-keeping and creativity, things their CVs could tell us they’re amazingly perfect at. We know from the way they treat their competition how selfless they are, and how they work in teams. These are important things for us to know and understand.

What Else?

There’s plenty more to cover, but to save this turning into a tome I’ll keep that for future versions of this article.

One thing about sharing all of this here is that anyone who reads it is at an advantage when applying for a role with us, but if they’ve taken the time to find this and read it then I’d say they deserve that advantage. It’s a level playing field, but sometimes people don’t know where the lines are.

There’s so much else to cover, job sharing, representation, internships, fair pay, it’s a deep topic. I hope this summary does a good job of capturing the workshop and why it is important to think differently when it comes to recruiting for your team.

My last point: the team you hire is your customers’ experience. It’s so important to get it right that you owe it to everyone involved to treat it with the creativity and energy that you invest in every other aspect of what you do.

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Gareth I. Jones

Founder of TownSq, focused on building communities of entrepreneurs, supporting startups and B Corps - businesses that are better for the planet.