Barriers to Building extraordinary [insert] teams

Baaaaarrrrccccelllloooonnaaaa!!  It was the spring of 2013, and this was the tune on replay through my mind.  I’d been approached about an exciting opportunity to lead ad tech operations for a major digital publisher in Spain.  With a very young family, and a settled life in London, progressing an application was going to mean some serious upheaval if I was successful.  My wife and I both had to be mentally sold on a move to Spain before I went for it, and luckily our list of pro’s far outweighed the cons.  Obviously the local football team was high on the list of advantages!  It was time to go all in…

Several Skype interviews, aptitude and psychometric tests later, I was asked to visit Barcelona for a day to meet the executive team.  I was excited about this, I’d get to see the city, get a real feeling for the office, and hopefully fly home charged about the opportunity.  Queuing to board a 6am flight at Gatwick, I was excited about what the day could bring.  Yet twelve hours later, I was utterly deflated...

I was warmly welcomed, got an office tour - such a great location overlooking the med - and settled down for a series of 1:1 meetings with each member of the team.  As the day progressed, I felt there was a strong connection with everyone, particularly the founder, and that I could add a lot of value to the business.  It would also be a great adventure for my family.  And then the tone changed.  I was interviewed by a senior executive who clearly wanted me to fail.  Trick questions, disapproving looks, and 30 mins of discomfort I’ve not forgotten in a hurry.    

And in that moment, they lost me.  My flight home was delayed and I had a few hours to contemplate the day.  So many boxes were ticked - family life could work with the role, compensation was strong, I’d have lots of autonomy to bring my ideas to the table.  But would I feel part of the team, and most importantly, enjoy the job?  That one difficult interview suggested I wouldn't.  How could I uproot my family and my life with that uncomfortable feeling gnawing at me?  My mind was made up, I’d be withdrawing my application in the morning.  

I’d clearly made a positive impression, as they tried in vain to change my mind, but I just couldn't picture myself in Barcelona anymore.   

So what’s the point Glen?  Well, the lesson I took away that day was paramount.  When you are trying to build an extraordinary team, whatever the discipline, you and your hiring team need to recognise that you are being auditioned too.  You can vet knowledge, skills, experience, behaviour, and do it all with a smile on your face. It's your job to sell the company, and while the job description and perks are lovely, your candidate is actually going to be buying into you instead.  And you don’t get a second chance.  

As for my friends in Spain?  I’m not saying I’m extraordinary, but I guess we’ll never know how fruitful a relationship we could have had together.  Fate took me in other incredible directions, and now here with IRIS, I get to share some of the things I’ve learnt along the way to help hiring managers build a team they are proud of.  And it starts with them.  

If any of this chimes with you and you need a bit of help with your hiring rigour, drop me a line at, I’d love to talk.  And keep an eye out for future posts at IRIS Insights, where I’ll be sharing more thoughts on what it takes to Build extraordinary product teams.  

What’s inspired me recently...

Here’s a little Ted video I stumbled across several weeks ago with Ethan Hawke, Give yourself permission to be creative.  The message I took was a wonderful reminder that creativity knows no confines, only those you create.  It only matters how what you do looks to you, not to anyone else - so follow your heart.  You’ll never know where it may lead you.  

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Glen Duncan

29th September

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