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Choosing the Project Team

In some organizations, when you are assigned a project, your first task is to choose the members of your project team. Think carefully about who you choose!

To start, think about the areas that your project will involve. Will it be a marketing venture? An IT project? A hybrid of areas? Or will it be a brand-new venture that no one in your company has expertise in?

You will also want people with skills in a variety of areas, including planning, communicating, scheduling, and budgeting. You also want people who are, or who have the potential to be, high performers and good team workers.

Once you have identified the skills that you want, take a look at the people in your organization. Determine who matches your project’s needs. You may even want to list your desired team members by role. (If you do this, make sure you include a second choice for the major roles.) If your project is in a particularly specialized area (especially if this area is new for your company), you may want to consider adding consultants or subject matter experts to your dream team list. Your choices should consider skills and personality.

Ask yourself:

  • Can general experience be sufficient? Does the individual need specific experience?
  • What interpersonal skills are required?
  • How many of each of these skilled people will be needed?
  • What level of supervision will be required for this role?
  • Not everyone is a team player. Is this important?

Now that you’ve identified who you want, identify the possible obstacles to getting these people on your team and how to get around them. For example, you may want the star member of another department’s team on your project. Perhaps if you speak to the head of that department and show them the value of your project they will be more willing to let that person work with you.

Once you have a plan in place, it’s time to act!

Tips for Getting the People You Need

In many situations, the people that you will want on your project will be on another team, under the direction of someone else. Although you may need this person on your project, chances are their supervisor needs them too. To get these people on your team (both figuratively and literally), you must act with grace and diplomacy. These interpersonal skills are a crucial component of being a project manager.

It is essential that you first go to the staff member’s supervisor. Explain what the project is and how it will benefit the organization. You may also want to outline what skills you believe the staff member will gain while they are on the project and how it will benefit their usual role and team. You can also outline what benefit you will have to the staff member’s supervisor; perhaps you can provide information for the employee’s evaluation or provide some much-needed training.

Work with what their supervisor gives you. If the person you want on your team is only available during a certain time frame or for a certain percentage of the day or week, try to work with that. Or perhaps there is another staff member who has a similar skill set but is more available. Think outside the box to get the best solution for the employee, their manager, and your project.

Once you have the supervisor’s buy-in, you will want to get the employee’s buy-in, too. Phrase the new assignment as an exciting option for the employee. You may even want to involve their supervisor in the discussion.

“I’ve just been assigned an exciting project that involves re-designing the accounting package that our bookkeepers use. I know you had a lot of accounting experience before you joined IT, and I think you would find this project interesting. I’ve already discussed this with Karen, and she is willing to let you move over to this project for the next six months. Would you be willing to take on the task?”

Make sure you provide the employee with as much information as you can and let them know that you will share more information when it becomes available. (Later on today, we’ll discuss meeting with team members once the team is formed.)

Making the Best of an Assigned Team

In the ideal world, when you are tackling a project that involves more than just you, you would get to select the people with the right skills and the commitment to get the job done. However, in the real world, you won’t always have the advantage of being able to choose every member of your team. Sometimes people are selected because they are available, rather than because of their skill or talent.

In this situation, you will still want to make that wish list of skills, expertise, and personality traits that you are looking for. Then, compare this list with your team members. Who is the best fit for each role or task? Remember, you’re looking for potential as well as actual skills and expertise.

If you find that you have a major gap between what you want and what you have, there are three options to consider. One option is training for the project members to make up for the skills that they lack. Another option is to bring in an outside consultant or subject matter expert. Or, you can simply proceed with what you have and hope that the gap is filled in with what the team learns as they go along. This last option is typically the only one that most project managers have. It can be very risky to expect people to learn new skills while executing an important project, but it can also be very rewarding for the team members.

Assigning Work

Sometimes you are just handed a job that has to get done. The projects may be less a team effort and more an assignment to be completed by a certain deadline. Knowing how to give effective work assignments can be a powerful motivational tool that encourages employee creativity and commitment. Likewise, poorly assigned work can cause a project to come unglued.

Who will do the task?

Consider the training, experience and skill requirements and compare staff members against these needs. At the same time, include opportunities for employee development and growth.

How will the task be done?

Make sure the expected results are clear in your mind. Have a snapshot of success that you can share with employees. Putting your snapshot of success in writing often helps to clarify expectations in your own mind.

How will the task be communicated?

Before you give out the assignment, find a way to put the employee at ease. Help the employee understand the bigger picture.

Make sure you have allowed for adequate time to explain the assignment fully and why it is being done. Then, communicate the objectives and standards of performance expected. Remember, communication should be a two-way process. Allow time for questions and clarification, and get feedback from the employee as to how they see the task getting done. Define any limits or constraints on the employee, such as budget constraints, time limits, or overtime concerns.

Help the employee to feel comfortable asking questions and discussing concerns. If you seem rushed or look at employees like they are stupid when they ask questions, you won’t get much of a response from them. Then, get a commitment from the employee that he/she will do the task. Plan on following up on your assignment to see that the task is being completed as expected (on time and on budget).

Four Issues to Address with Project Teams

There is no question that teams can unleash tremendous energy for a project. There are four issues that are critical to the success of that team:

  • Accountability
  • Experience
  • Resources
  • Empowerment


The biggest problem when forming teams and assigning projects to them is that accountability may be lost. Teams are often formed spontaneously by asking people to volunteer for assignments. They choose their own leader and then proceed with the work.

Ask yourself these questions: If the team fails miserably, or produces substandard work, would you fire the entire team? On the other hand, could you promote the entire team, as a team, if the work was outstanding?

In both cases, your answer is likely to be “No.” That means you do not have team accountability. You are hoping for a happy accident to occur.

The lesson: Team members must be chosen carefully and they must be very clear about their responsibility to the team.


Teams also need a leader with more than technical expertise. Team leaders need to understand brainstorming, group dynamics, and the ability to get information from others.


Resource allocation at the appropriate managerial level is another critical factor in forming and commissioning a team. Teams should not be formed from the bottom up and have to search and beg for resources or technical expertise. The appropriate manager should ensure that these resources are provided.


Finally, teams formed to address strategic issues should not be formed at too low of a level. Hands-on workers can deal with operational concerns but they frequently do not have enough information to address strategic considerations.

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