This is a blog about building teams. It’s a subject close to my heart after 20+ years working in banking and recruitment. In the current Financial Services environment, new challenger companies are popping up and growing quickly, meanwhile inside the largest institutions, new sub-brands, divisions and offices are bubbling up in much the same way. In every case, a new team has to be built. Building a team requires strategy and insight about the “team players” you need, but you won’t learn much by literally asking “Are you a team player?” Ask somebody how they contribute to a team and you may discover something more insightful, especially if they’ve prepared well for their interview. The bottom line is that to make your new group function, you need to recruit a team rather than individuals.

Building a team happens in different contexts and timescales. There is an International bank with an office in London with whom I have been lucky enough to work for several years. From the early days of 4 employees, I (or members of my team) have placed 80+ candidates to help grow the business that is both successful and populated with people who enjoy working well together. One of the earliest placements was the HR Director, a key placement who maintained a clear vision of the culture and the key personal attributes and values of its people, right from the outset. My relationship with this client now means I can spot people who I know will be a good fit and, depending on where my client is in the business cycle, I can proactively recommend them.

There is another business, a challenger bank where, once again, I have been privileged to work on several senior appointments from the outset. An important decision I made here was to recommend a candidate as Head of Operations reporting to the CEO, who was very capable but may not have been Number 1 in terms of technical experience. The reason was based on cultural fit, desire and the trajectory that candidate was on. Whether or not we accept that my recommendation was of key significance, the company has certainly continued to grow in a coherent and sustainable way.

Achieving the Fit

Jacky’s blog talked about how cultural fit, which can be roughly translated as value alignment, is important for collaboration, and that acquired diversity, which includes people’s different approaches to problem-solving, will tend to make a department or a team more successful. Even if you have a group of people with exactly the same job title, they will form a better team if they bring a blend of soft skills and strengths to a team-working environment. In this way, the team becomes bigger than the sum of its parts. You don’t want eleven Harry Kanes, however good he is. In my examples above, the Head of Operations and HR Director both brought a range of problem-solving, interpersonal and motivational skills which meant that they were contributing more to their respective teams than functional expertise and experience.

Recruiting a Team from Scratch

For recruitment specialists, there is an increasing emphasis on hitting the ground running by providing ready-made teams, especially for project solutions. When building from scratch it’s particularly important to become familiar with the key people who are already in place and the culture that they are looking to create. Equipped with this information, it’s easier to build a picture of the technical skills that will be required while achieving value alignment that includes people’s perceptions of the world and the marketplace.

I meet many people at the start of their build and some of them present greater clarity in their vision of the skills profile and team culture than others. I take a consultative approach to help achieve the most comprehensive vision of functional skills, experience, shared values and diverse attributes that are required. We can never be prescriptive though and a part of the skill is to back off at the right time to let the clients find some of the answers for themselves.

Recruiting for Challengers

From a recruitment perspective, both of the client examples I have used could be considered “Challenger Companies”. There are particular challenges to growing a team from the ground up. People need to gel from the outset and this coherence needs to remain as the company grows and splits into functional divisions. Many Challengers have teams full of people that have worked in larger institutions because that’s where the technical skills tend to be. The recruiter’s job is to spot the individuals that we believe can cope in a smaller, more hands-on environment where collaboration between people with different specialisms happens far more than in the siloed environments of the giants. Many candidates aspire to working for a Challenger, but are they capable? Do they have the ability to collaborate effectively in an environment that could be unpredictable and dynamic for a period of years? Top performers in the biggest financial services institutions can’t always recreate their success in smaller companies.

Recruiting for Larger Institutions

When partnering with a larger bank to build a new team, the corporate culture is already established and it’s the recruiter’s role to respect it. It may be that a new division will have its own personality that certain functions or business units tend to generate, but over-arching consistency has to be maintained and this requirement runs in parallel to matching the required functional experience and expertise. In situations like this, it is really useful to be working with the client across multiple functional areas because it improves the client and candidate experience so much. Wide visibility of activity and strategy in multiple areas allows us to approach our networks with precise messaging that means expectations about roles, skills, plans and strategies can be respected by all parties. This kind of visibility is just as important when working with a start-up although it is almost a given in the earliest stages before the growth phase takes off.


When recruiting teams you need to factor in strategy, culture, personality and diversity. An exceptional individual may be the wrong choice due to a mismatch of personality and values as much as they would be for having an inappropriate functional skillset. It’s never the case that you don’t target the best candidates, it’s about selecting the parameters to decide who the best people are when you’re trying to build a team.

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