Assembling Your Winning Team

Assemble your team

First, assess your work environment and what personality traits are needed for success.

By Craig Phifer, PT, MHA
August 2019

“This place will never be the same,” my wife said as we stared at our drinks.

A pall hung over our favorite coffee shop, as the best barista we have ever met, Anthony, was saying his goodbyes. Anthony was friendly, positive, loved his work, and was the best kind of goofy. The atmosphere of the room always changed the moment he entered, and soon the coffee shop’s culture reflected his personality. Anthony could make your entire day better in one 30-second conversation, and he passed this trait on to everyone he trained. With each subsequent trip after Anthony’s departure, you could see the culture shifting away from that of a great experience with great coffee to simply great coffee. One by one the other baristas left, and suddenly the coffee was no longer great, either. Our favorite coffee shop was soon barely recognizable, and nine months after Anthony left, it was closed.

Anthony was a superstar employee and the kind of person you dream of having on your team. Team members like Anthony make everyone and everything around them better. In physical therapy, you see this manifest itself in data in several ways—net promotor score, patient retention, and staff engagement and retention. How much of a difference could you make in your community if instead of 10 percent1 of your patients completing care, 50 percent of them did? How much of a difference would that make for your bottom line? Great people make all the difference, and the right team can defy all benchmarks. Here are five steps to ensure you have the right team.

1. Culture Assessment

This step requires you to look at your system and be very honest with yourself. Do you have the kind of company where great people want to work? In his book Drive, Daniel Pink teaches us that the biggest motivating factors for people are autonomy, mastery, and purpose.2 If you cannot provide these, you may be able to recruit and hire great people, but you will have a hard time keeping them. If you can provide this type of work environment, you will have the outstanding “problem” of having to choose which top applicant you want to hire. When looking to jumpstart improvements to workplace culture, providing more autonomy can be a great place to start. Set goals with your team instead of for them, give them resources they need, and provide professional freedom, and you will be amazed by what you can achieve.3

2. Top Performer Assessment

Who are your top performers? Why are they thriving? As Laszlo Bock states in his book Work Rules!, “Put your best people under a microscope.” In doing so, you can find out—and replicate—what makes them succeed. You can do this either subjectively or objectively.4 People can succeed in almost any organization with various personality types. In fact, Adam Grant wrote regarding the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) that four letters (the scoring system of the MBTI) do not do justice to anyone’s identity.5 However, there may be specific personality traits that make someone at your organization successful. In fact, Denissen et al.6 have determined that there may not be an ideal personality type for success in all workplaces. Instead, it may be more important that there is a match between the individual’s traits and the job demands.

3. Rubric Development

How will you be able to distinguish between a candidate who has high levels of the trait you are looking for and someone who has moderate levels of it? You must create a rubric in order to objectively identify various levels of traits and compare candidates objectively. This scoring system will also allow you to determine your success rate when you compare it to your key metrics for employee performance. Along with developing your rubric, pay special attention to how you may be able to identify red flags and even yellow flags in the interview process. It is possible you may find a candidate who displays many of the traits you are looking for but carries one trait strongly that may be disastrous within your culture. If you need additional help with rubric development, several universities have outstanding and accessible resources online.

4. Interview Strategy

What are you going to look for in a résumé that could indicate that someone has high levels of empathy? What information could you glean from a reference on this topic? How could you discover the presence of this trait in an interview with an applicant? Given that it’s been well demonstrated that people often tell us what they think we want to hear during interviews, you will want to avoid making your objectives obvious.7 For example, if you find that selflessness is a top trait for your team, it may be a mistake to ask a candidate to describe a situation in which he or she acted with selflessness.

Instead, ask “What are some factors you attribute to your success?” A candidate who scores well on this question may indicate having a very supportive family or learning a lot from peers, professors, or clinical instructors in school. Someone may show low levels of selflessness if only personal factors for success are given.

It is important to be objective in this process, and to do so, you’ll want candidates to be evaluated by multiple team members along the way. A team of two to four evaluators is needed, and each should play a different role in the hiring process. Coordinate the process well and have your evaluators use their own strengths to try to assess the personality and abilities of the candidates. One team member should serve as more of a recruiter than an evaluator. Have this person discuss your expectations of new employees and build excitement in the potential of joining your team. This part of the interview is essentially an introduction to your culture. If a candidate does not seem excited about potentially working for you during this phase of the interview, there may be cause for concern.

5. Process Refinement

Every new addition to your team is an opportunity to test the effectiveness of your interview strategy. Have you ever hired someone you thought was going to be a superstar who turned out to be a drain on your team? What did you miss? Was it something you could have discovered in the interview? If so, how can you find it or check for it next time? Did you use the interview to determine appropriate adjustments to your onboarding strategy? Even the best organizations have some misses in the hiring process. However, you will have a stronger, happier workplace if you are able to minimize these errors. Therefore, it is important to compare completed rubrics from hired candidates to their performance after each year to determine where you are succeeding and where you could improve. Every time you go through the hiring process is another opportunity to improve upon it and create a brighter future for your organization.

People are amazing. However, that doesn’t mean that every person will achieve amazing things in your culture. If you can recruit, hire, and retain the people who make your business great, you will love the difference you can make and improve your bottom line in the process.


1WebPT. The state of rehab therapy in 2018. Accessed March 2019.

2Pink D. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books; 2009.

4Bock L. Work Rules! New York, NY: John Murray Publishers; 2015.

5Grant A. Goodbye to the MBTI, the fad that won’t die. Psychology Today. Published September 9, 2013. Accessed March 2019.

6Denissen J., Bleidorn W., Hennecke M., Luhmann M., Orth U., Specht J. and Zimmermann J. Uncovering the power of personality to shape income. Psychol Sci. 2017;29(1):3-13.

7Levashina J. and Campion M. Measuring faking in the employment interview: development and validation of an interview faking behavior scale. J Appl Psychol. 2007;92(6):1638-1656.

Craig Phifer

Craig Phifer, PT, MHA, is a PPS member and owner/CEO of Rehabilitation & Performance Institute. He can be reached at and @CraigPhifer.

Copyright © 2018, Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All Rights Reserved.

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