How to Check for Top-Performing Team Players: A Simple 5-Point Guide

How to Check for Top-Performing Team Players: A Simple 5-Point Guide

Fuminori Gunji was a founding team member of Softbank Robotics from 2013 to 2016 and went on to lead the startup of Softbank's domestic B2B businesses and overseas expansion. In 2017, he headed business development for MakeLeaps, a SaaS payment management service. At the end of 2018, he closed MakeLeaps’ M&A deal with Ricoh and went on to be COO of MakeLeaps in 2019. 

With years of experience in promoting alliances with affiliates and business partnerships with major companies, today Fuminori shares his insights on who to hire to build a high-performing team in Japan and the questions to ask to pinpoint the right people for the job. 

1. ONLY hire positive-minded people.

Is this glass half-full or half-empty? Hire those who can see the glass half full.

You might think, "Oh, but this person is so smart, intelligent, capable, experienced, that experience/skill is exactly what we need, we should hire this person. We have many positive-minded people in the team with good vibes. One person who is not that positive won't hurt us! Our average happiness will still be high enough."

But what actually happens is that every not-so-positive-minded person requires everyone else in the team to spend more energy to keep up the positive vibe, and during crunch-time, that becomes exhausting.

Ask yourself, "Would I want 10 people of this kind?" and "If the tables were turned, would I want to work for this person?"

No matter how good or bad the overall company or team performance is, there are always challenges in business. When you are not growing, you stress out about product-market fit and lead generation. When there is lots of growth and many customers, you stress about how to deal with all the volume. No matter which situation you are in, there's always something you could bitch about. But if you are someone who can see the glass half-full, you are grateful for the things that happen to you (good or bad). 


‏‏‎‎“Gratitude is the wine for the soul. Go on. Get drunk.”‎‏‏— Rumi


Interview questions to check for this:

  • Are there any figures in your life you see as mentors? Any people who have helped you in your career, who gave you great advice that you still value today? Can you give some examples of those people? 反面教師でもいいですよ= role models of what not to do are OK, too. (If the person cannot think of anyone, that's a bad sign because no one advances in life without ever receiving support and help from someone, and you should know whom to thank for being where you are now.)

  • I understand why you are looking for a new job, but are there any things you appreciate about your current workplace? (This can be about culture, tradition, colleagues, some benefits, anything.)

  • Is there anything that happened to you in the past 3 months or so where you felt grateful?

2. Never hire anyone who talks badly about their previous employer. 

No matter how bad or shitty the previous workplace actually is/was, talking badly about your previous employer at a freaking interview with another company is a bad sign.

Sometimes, there are exceptions. For instance, with borderline criminal abuse of power. But in general, be alerted when someone talks really badly about their previous employer. It shows a lack of basic respect and decency, and sooner or later, this will backfire.

Interview questions to check for this:

  • Why do you want to leave your current job?

  • How is your relationship with colleagues or managers in your current job?

3. High performers attract high performers.

The most powerful lure for high performers is to work with other high performers. 

Furthermore, it doesn't matter for which position or salary level you hire, don't hire someone with an "I'm just a staff" mentality who doesn’t go the extra mile.

The "overhead cost" (time and effort spent) of managing such a person will not justify the "low cost" of that kind of person's low salary. Plus, that kind of person drags down motivated team members.

Interview questions to check for this:

  • How do you think you can contribute to this team/to this company? Is there anything extra you could bring to the table that would be valuable to us? (A high performer will want to mention something they could bring to the table that's not already required in the job description.)

4. Humor goes a long way; hire for humor. 

Hire people with a good sense of humor. Specifically, look for self-deprecating humor. Why? Because people with a good sense of humor tend to be able to see themselves from an objective point of view, can also laugh about themselves, and have a stronger tendency to be humble. 

That makes it much easier to have a meeting about how to improve their performance or raise problematic issues that should be fixed.

All that speeds up the PDCA/learning process within the organization. Some great reads on this topic include Good Sense of Humor on Job Is Nothing to Knock, Knock by Kathy Gurchiek and What a Self-Deprecating Sense of Humor Says About Your EQ by Anne Gherini.

Interview questions to check for this: 

Some questions you can give to the candidates are the following from Test Yourself: Psychologists Created a Quiz to Define Your Sense of Humor, The Cut, to be answered with a score of 1 to 5:

  • I usually don't laugh or joke around much with other people.

  • I don't have to work very hard at making other people laugh—I seem to be a naturally humorous person.

  • I rarely make other people laugh by telling funny stories about myself.

  • My humorous outlook on life keeps me from getting overly upset or depressed about things.

  • I enjoy making people laugh.

  • It is my experience that thinking about some amusing aspect of a situation is often a very effective way of coping with problems.

  • I usually can't think of witty things to say when I'm with other people.

  • I don't need to be with other people to feel amused—I can usually find things to laugh about even when I'm by myself.


"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” Oscar Wilde


5. Culture-fit matters.

In the context of culturally diverse teams: Hire those who are fluent in English who understand not just the English language but also European or US culture, which is the de facto global culture.

Checking for culture-fit makes many things a lot easier (metaphors and idioms get across, which greatly improves communication efficiency). I know this may sound a bit elitist and exclusive, but it's not: This is about whether the candidate has had access to decent English education (OK this is a matter of privilege to some extent, but it matters) and was curious enough to make efforts in their life trying to understand the language and culture of the lingua franca. Ignorance about this says something about the level of curiosity toward the outside world.

Even when the candidate is super smart and intelligent and/or funny and all that, do not underestimate the cost of a language barrier—it really reduces the quality and quantity of internal information flow, it requires translation of internal documents and additional meetings in a different language, which is costly because that causes misunderstandings that can lead to unnecessary frustrations and mistakes.

A closing thought.

Make the interview experience (the whole candidate journey) so impressive that everyone would like to join. No matter how good or bad the candidate is in front of you, make it count by honing how you pitch your company because every recruitment interview is an opportunity to promote your own company/team.

There is definitely a word-of-mouth effect—some people might call it karma. If you handle every candidate with respect and honesty, explain why you want to hire them (or why not), then they will put in a good word for you to other candidates or to the agent, even when you end up turning them down. This will create an environment where you will continuously be introduced to good candidates one way or the other. 


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