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Picking a Project Team - Choosing the Right Mix

Here is another in series of articles providing pointers for project planners on how to ensure right ingredients are put into a project to increase the chances of its success. Among a list of factors that contribute to a successful project, first and foremost come the people who would actually execute or implement the project. Team acquisition is the process of getting the human resources needed assigned to and working on the project. Without a knowledgeable team, the project will be much more difficult. Some things to consider when picking your team are previous experience, personal interests, personal characteristics, availability, and competencies and proficiency. The resources for finding team members can be endless. Choosing a right team with a right manager can help ensure that many problems that the project could face are avoided at the team level itself.

Right Project Manager

First task for the leadership is to choose the right project manager to lead the project. Project manager must have a number of skills to use during the project to guide the rest of the team to successfully complete all the objectives. Business acumen, communication, responsiveness, process management, result orientation, operational, realism and technological skills are some of the basic requirement that a project manager should have to enable him to deliver success to the endeavor. Now how does one go on to choose a project manager? There are multiple approaches that the leadership needs to adopt to understand the attitude and aptitude of a manager to judge his/her ability to lead the team. First step while selecting the manager is to understand the historical performance of the personnel. This should include how the candidate fared in terms of performance and also the feedback from the members of the team the candidate has led in the past. Once the past credentials are verified, the prospective manager candidate should be put through real life challenges that the project could face and the approach towards solving them should be evaluated. Following guidelines for recruiting a project manager could be helpful in choosing a right candidate –
  • Expose the selected project manager candidates to life-like situations you yourself struggled with in a project
  • Conduct role plays with other people in your project to gauge how the project manager handles various attitudes from each person
  • Have the project manager conduct mock interviews with candidate resources hired for the project
  • Have a language expert evaluate a written Q & A interview test where project manager candidates answer situation based narratives
  • Measure how bold the selected project manager candidates are willing to be throughout the interview process HOW TO DO THIS?
    • Ask him if the candidate had to fire any employee previously
    • Candidates should elicit how did they approach the firing
    • Ask candidates to elicit a bold/risky decision they undertook in one of their positions and also what the results were
    • Prepare some case situations where the candidates have to take decisions in impossible situations for instance giving a bribe or closing a project, taking orders from boss or opposing in case of conflict etc.
  • Ensure that manager is aligned to company’s belief HOW TO DO THIS
    • Ask the candidate about the beliefs he or she strongly holds
    • Formulate case situations where one of the options for deciding is pro company policy and other is anti-policy.
    • Analyze their answers to understand things they strongly feel about.
  • Take feedback from the employees that have worked in team with and under the candidate AND DO WHAT?
    • Analyze from the feedback if there were any conflicts between the candidate and the team
    • Try to understand from the feedback if the candidate could keep the team together during conflicts.
    • If the candidate has had many conflicts or is univocally considered dominating by all his previous team members, then the person is not suitable to be a team leader.

Once a team leader/manager is selected, it is time to pick the right mix of people to form the team. Along with a right project leader, the success of a project also depends on picking a team that is competent for the project. The team members may come from negotiations with managers and other project teams, pre-assignment from another project, or even from outside the organization. You will also need to determine whether each team member will be working on the project full or part time. Thinking ahead of the ideal team members can save valuable time. Hence it becomes one of a very critical decision in the lifecycle of a project. This is one time when the leadership should work very closely with the project lead/manager and choose the personnel based on merit to suit the requirements of the project. Some guidelines that organizations could incorporate in team selections process are given below.

Size is Critical
Small project teams perform better than large ones due in part to the few interpersonal relationships and lesser confusion. However the project manager needs to ensure a balance to manage the tradeoff between two extremes of a team size. The optimal size and composition of teams depends on the scope of the team's goals. With too few people, a team will not have the resources and skills it needs to complete its tasks. Too many members can make communication and coordination difficult and lead to poor team performance. Research shows that teams perform best with between five and nine members. According to a famous research by Dr. Meredith Belbin, results suggested that the optimum team size is eight roles plus a specialist as needed. Fewer than five members resulted in decreased perspectives and diminished creativity. Membership in excess of twelve resulted in increased conflict and greater potential of subgroups forming that can disrupt team cohesion. Here are the pointers for choosing the team size:
  • Choose ideal team size based on project requirements
  • Make a list of responsibilities
  • Decide on number of responsibilities to be delegated to a single member
  • Decide upon the number of members based on above numbers
Attitude Counts
The team lead needs to look for people with positive attitudes while forming the team. A positive attitude in the workplace helps employees to accomplish tasks faster and in a better manner. The performance of employees to a great extent depends on the good relationship they share with their colleagues. A good relationship can be established only when employees demonstrate a positive attitude towards their work and colleagues. Through positive energy, work becomes a pleasure and employees find it easier to achieve their goals. The team members must think of their team first and all other personal interests should come later. Every individual must be able to contribute equally as per his capability to achieve the predefined targets successfully within the desired time frame. Here is what the team lead can try to judge the attitude of prospective team members:
  • Subject prospective team members to situational tests and see if they choose options which are aligned to company policies. 
  • Try to go over the career history of employees and their performance records to understand their attitude towards work.
Diversity Lowers Risk
Diversity in the team is an actual asset for the project rather than a simple corporate responsibility banner. Diversity brings with itself different styles and varied approaches towards solving a business problem. Apparent contradictory views if handled correctly can prove to be a valued counterbalance mechanism for perspectives leading to the optimum view evolving out. Managers should try the following mix while forming their team:
  • Try to recruit members from different departments of the company
  • Try to ensure the members have different extent of experience (few freshers and few veterans)
Feedback is Important Input
It is important for the managers to ensure that they pick the team members after due diligence and taking feedback from managers of teams in which the candidates were earlier part of is a crucial aspect of this diligence. Past performance is to a high extent indicatory of the contribution a member would make towards success of the team. However, it is essential to remove biases from such feedback and hence managers should contact multiple team leads or peers for the prospective team member rather than basing the decision on a single feedback. Managers should consider the following after they take the feedback:
  • Use this feedback to decide if the candidate is suited for the particular task at hand
  • Based on feedback decide if the candidate is a team player
  • In case the candidate is known to have or create problems for others in previous teams, he or she should not be picked for the team.
Skill-set is the Foundation
While I talk about the skillset at end, it is only because of an assumption that project managers and leadership would already have this in mind. While existing capabilities of team members is a critical criteria, this is to be supplemented by adequate training. Once the team is selected, it helps it to expose it to some team building and skill development exercises.
  • Identify experts in the capability skill-set within the organization and conduct training sessions
  • Organize a group outing for the team in an informal setting.
  • Use services of professional team building agencies for very important projects.
  • Organize occasional group dinners etc. to keep the chemistry fresh.

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