Immersion is the best teacher. It gives you first-hand knowledge of what works and what doesn't. It quickly weeds out the theory that is no longer relevant in practice. And it forces you to abandon overthinking, as you navigate how to survive and thrive in the real world.

Most nod their head in agreement on the benefits of increasing your skill level through immersion when it comes to learning a language. But it isn't often top of mind when leaders seek out candidates to build a high-performing team.

Thus companies often look for people with a standard set of experiences within a traditional professional environment as a marker that an applicant is capable of doing the job at hand. 

That model may not serve you well moving forward. Here's why.

The danger in building a team that isn't fully immersed in their area of expertise.

I live in Buenos Aires. Since I started coming here more than three years ago, I've been steadily increasing my degree of fluency in Spanish, as I go about my day-to-day interacting with the locals in their native language.

But after a two-month trip back to the U.S. for the holidays where I spoke almost no Spanish, I can tell I've regressed quite a bit. No bueno. 

The same thing happens in business. Teams lose the pulse of what is going on their market, by spending all their time working in the office on budgets, slide decks, meetings, email, and management approvals.

Sarah Hooper, is president and co-founder of A-OK Collective, a creative agency focused on creating remarkable experiences for clients such as Puma, Warner Brothers, and Viceland. Hooper told me she finds this challenge with a lot of the brands she works with, and as a result, many have lost touch with their market:

If you're just constantly in our office working head down, and not out and about, how do you know? That really happens a lot with our clients, and we're trying to provide the opposite. Some clients get so stuck and you really want to say, 'Listen, I don't know how else to say, you are sitting in your office all day long and I know that you are not out there. And I'm telling you, this is what's going on. 

To build a rock-star team, that solves your customers' problems like none other, seek out people who spend time in the trenches getting to know your customers better than they know themselves. 

For Hooper, who's built a strong crew at her agency, this means looking for talent who fits a certain profile. She notes, "You should be a fully developed person in the culture. That's bringing your best self to do these certain types of things for our brands."

Here are two ways to find this kind of talent to strengthen the performance of your team.

1. Look for people with a relevant side-hustle.

Team members who independently invest time outside of work developing their craft, indulging a related hobby, or advancing a cause will bring a strong and informed point of view to your business.

For Sarah Hooper, that means tapping talent that throw massive raves or produce shows at Coachella. For you, that could be bringing on folks who blog or podcast about your field, organize events, or even run a business on the side that taps into skills that could be useful for you.

Celebrate and embrace the non-traditional experiences and interests your team has. The energy and insight they bring from engaging in these activities will add to your team's capabilities.

2. Look for people with a history of being entrenched in the market you are serving.

When your team's connection to your customers transcends the job they do for you, it deepens their vigilance and sense of urgency in adding value for them.

As you work to build a powerhouse team, don't just look for people who check the box on years of experience in certain skills. Hunt for talent with a proven track record and commitment to making a difference for your customer group.

This philosophy is fundamental to how Hooper staffs her team.

Culture is something that is important to everyone at my agency. It is a pre-requisite of being part of this agency. All of the seniors, myself included have a real background in having promoted, loved, and a part of real culture changing moments since we were young. 

In my last corporate job, we made insulin pumps for people with diabetes. We often hired people who had type one diabetes or had someone close to them who did. Their personal connection to the company vision fueled them to go beyond the status quo to serve our customers.

Create a competitive advantage by building a team immersed in your customers' worlds.

Published on: Jan 25, 2018