The Easy Secret to Getting The Most Out of Your Team

October 14, 2016, 3:04 PM UTC
Team of architects having group project discussion
Team of architects having group project discussion at workstation in office
Thomas Barwick — Getty Images

When I interview job candidates, there are several standard questions I like to pose. As I listen to their responses, I’m assessing them within a set of criteria I expect of all my team members. More than anything, I’m seeking honest and direct answers.

The three questions I ask are:

1) What opportunities do you see long term for the company within the industry at large?

2) What new actionable ideas can you bring to the work that we’re not already doing today?

3) If you ran your own company, what kind of people would you hire and why?

Not coincidentally, these questions reflect the same expectations I make of my team on a regular basis. My team appreciates the consistency to the narrative that carries over into their tenure at the company. When something comes up, they know they can — and should — come to me. This system set employees up to succeed — as they know exactly what’s expected of them — and the two-way trust makes you a better boss.

Candor is everything. You must consistently exhibit the transparency and communication that you believe in, require, and represent. Weekly team meetings can be great opportunities for updates on the latest product enhancements we’re working on, however they are also the best time to address uncomfortable topics. If questions and concerns aren’t raised, I will wonder whether people are thinking through the entire process.


At the same time, I’m aware that it’s hard to be the voice of dissent in a room full of your peers. So I spend much of my time in these meetings listening closely to what my team might not be telling me or sharing with others, focusing on what they’re reticent to bring up. If someone has run into sudden technological obstacles, or anticipates tension down the line, I want to hear about it as soon as that issue has surfaced or worry has set in. We can make better decisions and deal with whatever consequences come from them if we’re confronting the issues head on. This is the recipe for building great products and a great company.

Ultimately, it all comes back to those key questions I consider during every employee’s first exposure to the company. Too often, there’s a disconnect between the recruitment and early period of a person’s professional life cycle at a company and what follows afterward. It’s unfair to the candidate to promote the role one way and then not to stay true to the plan yourself. And, quite frankly, it’s bad business that will inevitably lead to dealing with either disillusioned or frustrated team members.

To do your best work, you need to establish a safe space for people to feel empowered to float ideas, big or small. For example, to show we’re seriously committed to innovation, we host an annual hackathon that encourages employees across the company to form teams and to create solutions. Candor and consistency within a team pave the way for proud, collective achievement.

Related: If You Can’t Answer This Question in 5 Seconds, You’re in Trouble

The candor I exhibit during the interview process gives people a true glimpse into our product team’s working styles. Open communication should make candidates feel comfortable and confident, and not shy away from sharing. I want people to know from the outset that we stay true to the values of our company such as employee-driven innovation. It’s what powers us to move ahead.

Catherine Ulrich is Shutterstock’s chief product officer, responsible for leading Shutterstock’s overall product strategy and innovation roadmap.