As we start up a new project, I am struck again with how much time and effort goes into creating a solid team that collaborates, can communicate effectively, and is productive. As is often the case with new consulting projects, we are assembling a new team where almost none of the members have worked together before. Our startup has been easier than in many cases because each member of the team has a defined role. Yet, it has taken us several weeks to figure out where one person’s work ends and another’s starts or how to work together where there is overlap. Unlike many teams, we are challenged by the fact that our team is working largely part-time and virtual, although most members are based out of the D.C. area.
To compensate for the virtual factor we have taken all the usual steps. We held several face-to-face meetings in the first two weeks. The meetings were a combination of project planning, knowledge transfer and education, complimented with small group informal coffees together. We also have the usual bi-weekly status meetings. The jury is still out on how productive these will be in the long run. Collaborative tools such as Slack, SharePoint, and screen-sharing conference calling tools are also aiding the communication process.
Through all this, I am most struck by the fact that there are several characteristics which are often overlooked when people consider how to build new teams. Managers tend to focus on the routine items. In my experience, there are several significant characteristics that managers need to focus when building teams:
- Collective goal that everyone can get around: Teams that have a central goal or idea that all team members can coalesce around are far more successful than those that focus on the mechanics of the project.
- Team culture of being adaptive: Teams that are adaptive are better at absorbing changes in priorities, schedules, and other external impacts, making them more resilient.
- Balance between risk-taskers and those that play it safe: Team members that build a culture that can balance between risk taking and risk avoidance, ‘weighing the pros and cons of each situation, tend to make better decisions.
- Flexible and strong leadership: A project manager or team lead that understands when to manage, when to play coordinator (letting team members lead with their ideas and expertise) and when to be a visionary leader tend to lead the most successful teams.
As we pulled our team together, and were working through the early stages, we maintained a focus on these four characteristics. It’s difficult to bring together the right amount of these characteristics in every team and get a perfect balance but, keeping them in mind from the start will take a team much further than not trying at all. As for our new team, we are still working on balancing risk and managing in a flexible framework.