Okay, show of hands: How many of us have hired employees who didn't turn out to be team players? I bet most of us raised our hand. And most of us experienced this at least once or maybe even twice before. But if the count's higher then you might find this posting helpful.
Here's what I do to avoid expending valuable time and resources only to discover late in the game a new hire isn't a team player: I get a good read from potential hires during their initial interview. I do this by passing the ball to them in the first few minutes, and then I get them to pass it back. I avoid asking them directly if they're a team player because the aim is to get them to demonstrate team player characteristics. To do this, I:
1. Summarize the position and give them the option to end the interview if they feel they're not a good match. I ask them directly: "If this is something you don't see yourself doing you can end our conversation right now." Offering this option demonstrates you trust their judgement. I find this a helpful gauge putting them in an immediate judgement situation. Some seemed surprised by it while others are thankful for giving them the option to bail.
2. Engage them in their potential role: I show them exactly what they'll be working on in a manner that obliges them to ask questions. For example, I'll give them a brief hands-on training with the system they'll be using. As I'm doing this I engage them in questions and scenarios related to their role. It's a good way to see how they tick when they ask you follow-up questions. (If they don't actively participate I probably won't hire them.)
3. Make them comfortable: I try to see how they communicate as they might in casual conversation. I chat about interests on their resume or topics outside of the work-world they're passionate about. As I mentioned in my last posting I've hired a great team member after chatting about our common cooking interests. Also, getting them to talk candidly about a past job (beyond the job description and duties) is a good ice-breaker... especially if it's a job they weren't particularly fond of. I'll even share my past work related horror stories to get them to laugh! I find if they're comfortable, they'll ask questions. This is key to observing how they engage with others.
I realize we all have our own interviewing styles and these suggestions might not be the best fit for your work environment. What might work in a start-up or non-profit might not translate to finance or an assembly line. But no matter the tact, providing an opportunity for potential hires to demonstrate team player characteristics in the initial interview is a great place to start.