Julie Zhuo: What I've learned from building teams at Facebook

Julie Zhuo is one of Silicon Valley’s top product design executives. She leads the teams behind some of the world's most popular mobile and web services used by billions of people every day.

At a growing organisation, hiring well is the single most important thing you can do. I started my career as an intern at at small but promising start-up. Over the years, I’ve interviewed and helped bring in hundreds of people – more than the entirety of the company when I started! Those people have gone on to bring in many more.

That company was Facebook.

If you had told me when I joined that I’d be one of the reasons why thousands of people work there today, I’d have thought you were crazy.

Hiring doesn’t just matter at scale – even a single great hire can make a big difference to your team’s outcomes. And yet we often treat hiring like a chore, like it’s something that takes us away from doing real work. Or, we’re so desperate to fill roles and ease the load off ourselves or our overstretched teams that we say yes to the first person who comes along. In my book, “The Making of a Manager,” I talk about how the most important thing to remember about hiring is that it is not a problem to be solved but an opportunity to build the future of your organisation. Finding the right person can not only make your team more successful, but your day-to-day more rewarding and fun.

Julie Zhuo by Jeff Singer

Another important part of building your team is providing lots of feedback and support to the team’s current members. If you act like a new hire will be the solution to all of your team’s problems, you can bet that your current team members will feel demoralised pretty quickly. As a manager, I’ve seen just how much it helps to be a transparent and direct leader – someone with whom every member of the team knows where they stand. This feedback and support loop is key to keeping your team growing.

One exercise I do every January is to map out where I hope my team will be by the end of the year. I create a future organisational chart, analyse gaps in current skills, strengths, or experiences, and make a list of open roles to hire for. You can do something similar for your team at any time by asking yourself the following five questions:

  1. How many new people will I add to our team this year (based on company growth, expected attrition, budget, priorities, etc)
  2. For each new hire, what level of experience am I looking for?
  3. Which specific skills or strengths do we need in our team (for example, creative thinking, operational excellence, expertise in XYZ, etc)?
  4. Which skills and strengths does our team already have that new hires can stand to be weaker in?
  5. What traits, past experiences, or personalities would strengthen the diversity of our team?
Building a great team is crucial

This exercise will look a little different if you’re at a company without a lot of hiring needs. In that case, the size and composition of your team a year from now might remain pretty similar to today. Still, it’s useful to keep these questions top of mind: Where did your best employees come from? What new skills, if any, would you want to add to the team? And who specifically might you love to bring on board if a spot opens up?

Having a thoughtful, one-year-out organisational plan lets you stay ahead of hiring needs and gives you a handy framework for evaluating candidates so that you won’t fall into the trap of saying yes to the next person who comes along. Even if things change – your organisation restructures, an employee abruptly leaves, priorities shift – you can modify your plan as you go along so that there’s always a clear picture in your head of what your team should look like.

When you approach building your team not as an item on a checklist but as an exercise in dreaming about the kind of environment you want to be surrounded by, it starts to feel a lot more exciting and rewarding. Each resume you look at and every interview you conduct becomes a chance to fulfill that vision. Don’t settle for less than a group of people you can’t wait to solve hard problems with.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 



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