Back to Interview Questions: Protecting the Tree House

Did you help build a tree house out of scrap lumber, clearly unsafe but loads of fun? And almost always with a KEEP OUT sign, barring some group from entering. Girls, boys, parents, dogs. Somebody couldn't come in. That's what made it a club, a team. Most of the time, the idea of keeping people out is a negative one, to be countered whenever we have the power.

But sometimes keeping people out is for the good of the work.

The question: If your team was a club and you gathered in a makeshift tree house, what would be painted on your KEEP OUT sign?

Sounds like a negative question meant to ferret out prejudices and biases, but at second look, it can give us great insight into what candidates have learned about forming and nurturing a productive, happy team.

What are the characteristics that just aren’t going to be helpful and harmonizing in a team?

Now, if we’re going to ask questions like this, we have to be prepared to give candidates a couple minutes to think. Nobody comes with a canned answer to this. So be patient.

There are some obvious answers, perhaps.

  • People who aren’t truthful.
  • People who don’t work hard or play well with others.
  • Whiners.
  • Complainers.
  • People with a chip on their shoulder.
  • Drama queens and kings.
  • People who wear loud shoes that make click-clack noises in the hall and distract everyone. (OK, maybe not so obvious.)

You get the drift. We would all like to post a KEEP OUT sign for these energy drainers.

But I like to hear the quirky answers that show me somebody has already thought about the not so obvious things that can torpedo a team.

  • People who want to be so helpful they end up in everybody’s business.
  • People who never say “I’m sorry.”
  • People who are careless with information security.
  • People who treat maintenance workers disrespectfully.
  • People who think some tasks are beneath them.
  • People who think they are entitled to an easy ride.

My own answer to this question?

I would post a huge sign that says “Overly Optimistic People KEEP OUT”. I want positive, but real people. That over-optimism can sink a team.

It's a provocative question for those hoping to climb up into our treehouse.

Oh, and, who would you keep out? (I’d love to hear your response.)

Common People United