Choosing Project Team Members: The Five Employees You Need on Every Team

choosing project team membersKaitlyn’s company had a big contract coming up and she wanted to put the perfect team together to finish the job. As a very involved CEO, her first step seemed obvious. She went straight to the resumes. She knew she needed a coder, a designer, a technical writer, a customer support person, and a manager. She’d just choose the best person for each job, and then she’d have her dream team, right?

Wrong. As she compiled her list, Robert, her head of Human Resources, started pointing out his objections. “Shana won’t work well on a team with Dennis. Their personalities clash. And you have too many detail-oriented people here. You need at least one big picture person.”  

Kaitlyn was learning an important lesson. While it’s essential for your teams to have the right technical skills, those technical skills alone won’t create a successful team. You can assemble the smartest, most talented group in the world, but if they can’t work together, your project will be a bust. When choosing project team members, you have to look beyond skills and focus on each person’s personality, in terms of work ethic, values, and attitude.

What Makes a Great Team?

Teamwork is essential to success in most fields. The basketball court, the operating room, and the office all demand great teams. A great team is cohesive, productive, and effective. However, only the last of these traits, effectiveness, depends on technical skill. To be cohesive and productive, a team also needs a good mix of personalities.

If you create a team of very skilled people whose personalities clash, the team might produce mediocre results versus a less-skilled team that can work well together, especially on complicated projects that draw from many disciplines. If you put together a skilled team without a diverse group of personalities, you’ll also risk failure.

For instance, imagine a team where everyone is an extroverted, big picture person. This team may be cohesive, but they won’t be very productive. Members will get along well, but they’ll easily become side-tracked by conversations and future goals. They’ll enjoy the time they spend together and they’ll likely feel inspired, but they won’t accomplish much real-world work. Meanwhile, a team composed entirely of detail-oriented introverts may be productive, but they’ll lack the cohesion and vision that they need to pull the project together at the end, and communication within the team will likely be a problem (analysis paralysis).

As a corporate leader, you must familiarize yourself with the personalities and working styles of your employees, not just their resumes. You need to take the time to really know people in order to put together cohesive, productive, and effective teams. Every team, no matter how big or small, needs to have at least one person who fulfills each of the following roles:

The Dreamer: The dreamer is a visionary. She sees the big picture and the larger implications for the project. If things start to derail and go off course, she can focus on the ultimate goal and redirect the team. However, because the dreamer is a big picture person, she also needs reminders when it’s time to knuckle down and focus on the details. She needs someone else to give her milestones and to break down the big goal into smaller ones.

The Detailed Doer: The Detailed Doer is focused on minutiae. He’ll ensure that everything is accurate and on time. However, he can sometimes get bogged down with smaller tasks that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. He depends on teammates to help him see when it’s time to let it go and move on.

The Server: Every project needs someone who is service-oriented and focused on the client, which is where this employee shines. Otherwise, internal concerns can swamp client needs. However, the server also needs reminders that sometimes what the customer wants and what the team can do are two different things.

The Little Engine That Could: Every project needs one person who will persevere in the face of all odds. This person can be a member of one of the other subgroups, but they must be someone who keeps plugging through disappointments and roadblocks, and who can keep the project on track. However, these reliable workhorses will sometimes keep going in one direction even when it’s time for a change, so it’s important for teammates to speak up if it’s time to rethink strategy.

The Encourager: Every team needs a cheerleader to lift flagging spirits and give praise for accomplishments. The encourager can also smooth over interpersonal conflicts and help people see things from another person’s point of view. Encouragers make great team leaders because they make everyone feel needed and valued.

Remember, when you’re putting the team together, it’s not enough to employ a checklist approach to personality types any more than it is to apply a checklist approach to finding necessary skills. Team members also have to get along despite of their different thinking and working styles. While you may not be in a position to know the ins and outs of friendships and rivalries in the office, you can talk to the people who directly supervise prospective team members. Ask about any potential conflicts or pitfalls before you put the team together, so that you can avoid having to make major changes down the line.

When a Team Isn’t Working

Sometimes, even when you think you have the right mix of personalities for your team, you may end up with a team that just doesn’t work. You may have overlooked interpersonal conflicts, been mistaken about someone’s working style, or simply underestimated the technical know-how needed for a particular role. At that point, you need to step in and make substitutions before the project falls behind.

First, take a careful look at the team. Which relationships and roles are breaking down? Who else do you have who could fill those roles? Once you decide on your substitution, be honest and open with the team and the person being swapped out. Explain that you put them on the team because of A, B, and C, but as the project has advanced, you’ve realized there’s a need for X, Y, and Z. Have another project or role ready, so the employee being removed from the team understands that the switch is not a punishment or a show of disapproval. They should be aware that you put them on the team because you respect them and their work, but you’ve realized that it wasn’t the best use of their skills at this time.  A role as a mentor to another employee is one option for a team member who is leaving as it reinforces their value and expertise in the organization.

Explain to the team, apart from the member who is leaving, why you are making the switch and what contributions you hope the new member will bring to their efforts. Monitor the transition closely, both for the employee who has left the team and the one who has joined the team. Be supportive and encouraging. Provide opportunities for the reconstituted team to get to know each other outside of the project.

Cohesive, Productive, and Effective

After Kaitlyn consulted with HR and departmental managers, she was finally ready to select her team for the new project. The employees on the team had the right mix of skills, but they also had personality traits and working styles that would help the group succeed. She organized an in-office luncheon so the group could get to know each other in a low-pressure situation. This helped the team coalesce even before it was time to get to work, so they were able to hit the ground running.

Over the years, Applied Vision Works has worked with leaders to help them understand their employees’ skills and personalities so they can determine how each individual best fits with the larger company culture. If you need help choosing project team members, AVW can give you the support that you need. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.

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