Building an Effective Project Team


by Colin Flynn

This is the 6th post in our blog series, “Innovating Like a Startup (When You’re Not In a Startup.)” Previous Post:

Know Who to Pitch: Finding the Path to Funding.

If you’re spearheading a project within your company or have been put in charge of a new innovation initiative, most likely, you also have a say about who is placed on the project team. The importance of building an effective team is difficult to overstate. Up ahead, there may be some long hours, late nights and weekends spent on this work; take the time to think about who will make those hours most productive and enjoyable.

Determine the Work Environment

Put some thought into what kind of work style, environment, and communication rhythm you want for this project. Is your team going to be working all hours of the night for this, or is it understood that this is a side-project? Is everyone going to be working from the same location, at the same time? Or will people chip away at the project where and when they have time?

Do you want a more siloed work environment, where everyone is heads down on their particular tasks? Or do you want a very collaborative team environment, where everyone is focused on the “next best step”? How often does your team need to get together for updates? Having a daily standup creates alignment, but you may also need some strategy sessions and impromptu conversations through mediums like Slack. How much autonomy and decision making interpretation should people have? You now have a high firepower team. Do you want them to build in an exact method or do you want to give them creative leeway for accomplishing what is needed?

One type of environment isn’t necessarily better, but as project management, given the scope and nature of the work at hand, you need to decide.

Determine Which Types of People You’ll Need

The type of work environment and culture you’re hoping to create for your project should influence who you bring into the project. Is it a creative, learning environment? Or have you crafted a system designed for high productivity output? Who you bring into the project will be reflected in the results. If you have a more straightforward, disciplined team, you’ll be able to follow a more defined product development process, but you might need to encourage more divergent thinking to push the performance of the product. On the other hand, if you have extremely creative people on your team, innovative approaches may abound, while you may need to build in more touch points with the users throughout the development process in order to keep them grounded in the customer’s expectations.

Whether you’re bringing new people into an established work environment or trying to build a culture around an existing team, try to make the two cohesive. Different types of projects are more successful in different atmospheres, and different team members might perform better in different work environments.

Carve Out Time to Onboard New Members

When you’ve decided to bring someone new into your project, carve out time to give them a solid onboarding experience. As you’re explaining the structure, processes, and software your team is using, but be sure to include the context around how that decision was made. Explain the why as much as you can. This will do two things: it will force you to evaluate the effectiveness of your current process, and it will provide a much richer onboarding experience for your new team member.

You should expect that new members won’t understand every decision at the same level and that they may challenge some of the existing assumptions and directions. Listen to their feedback, consider how you might change, and at the very least, be sure to make a note of what they are saying as something to look out for later down.

Watch Out for Red Flags

Red flags include people with ego, people who don’t get into the weeds and actually do the work, highly strategic people that don’t follow through, highly talented and technical people that are unable to communicate effectively with others on the team, procrastinators, or people who lack the willingness to take responsibility and ownership of their work. These types of behavior will crush productivity and exhaust your culture. Some of these habits are hard to spot during the “interview” phase, and only become evident when you start working together. As hard as it is let someone go, especially if they’re a buddy or a really likable person, you need to protect and defend your culture by addressing these red flags as they pop up.

Conclusion

Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a project manager inside a large organization, as the owner of your project, you should take the time to put some strategy behind your project’s work environment, culture, onboarding experience, and how you’ll identify and address red flags.

Next Post: What the MVP? Breaking Down the Minimum Viable Product.

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