This article explores a strategic team building approach. It first takes into consideration the needs of the project specifically, but also the greater organizational needs. It can apply to organizations that primarily do internal projects, or to ones that do projects as a business.
To build a strategic team to staff a project, there are two basic questions from the outset:
- What are the project’s needs?
- What are needs of the greater organization?
The first question – what are the needs for getting the project successfully executed – is basic to every project. The second question, however, is not project specific. It asks what approach can be taken to make progress toward organizational strategic goals that are not project-specific and not necessarily related to the primary reason for doing the project.
What Skills are Needed on the Project Team?
Typically, the project manager would assess the kinds of capabilities needed to execute the project successfully. This includes:
- Technical skills needed on the team
- Non-technical skills needed on the team
At this point of strategic team building, all considerations apply to the project itself.
Clearly some level of technical skills will be required on the project. You can ask:
- What are the absolute essentials?
- How do they align with what already exists with resources in the organization?
- What domain knowledge is required?
What non-technical skills are needed? This could include not only sills, but also attributes, such as:
- Understanding of culture
- Work ethic
Which skills and roles on the project are most important and non-negotiable? Which are necessary to allow the team to not only fulfill the objectives of the project but to function well as a unit?
As you begin to configure the team conceptually, some individuals will emerge that have multiple skills and can fulfill multiple needs, both technical and non-technical. By contrast, others may fill only one or two needs – sometimes not even technical.
What Relationships Are Needed on the Team?
Next consider the relationships that will be needed on the team. Only thinking about the project, and not so much the greater organizational issues, it is important to consider relationships within the team for:
- Building diverse approaches to solving problems
- Effectiveness and efficiency in getting work done
- Harmony that results in people functioning well together
Consider the relationships, for example, among the potential team members. They may have worked on projects together before and thus may bring some efficiencies and extra effectiveness to the table on day one.
Now let’s go beyond this and take a more strategic view of relationships on the team and additionally consider the relationships that that team members might have with people on other projects. That could become quite important, as here could be potential synergies among projects as well as possible coordination that might be necessary.
Let’s look more strategically at what you might want to happen – depending upon the situation.
- It may be helpful to have relationships among various internal project teams – such as between your team and other teams. For example, most of the teams may need, or benefit from, relationships with certain other specific teams within the organization.
- By contrast, there may be a team or two that operates independently, intentionally without any relationships with other internal teams. It is helpful, and often required, for a team to be working independently from any other team, with minimal organizational ties.
For #2, for example, a team working on a disruptive technology or process would benefit – likely increase its chances of success – from this level of independence. A high level of independence should promote free thinking unencumbered by company norms for behavior, thinking, and organization.
There is also a need for external relationships. Such relationships might include external entities such as:
- Service providers
- Specific people
A member of your team might bring some relationships that will be helpful. In other cases, you will need to build the relationships. The important thing to think about is how that external relationship might be helpful to the organization as a whole, beyond the project – ‘strategically’ – for now and into the future. It can shape how you go about establishing and nurturing the relationship.
This part of the strategic team building effort applies organizationally – beyond the project itself.
Pulling It Together Across the Organization
The theme emerging is to give some consideration to mapping your project’s org chart to your organization’s org chart and answering some questions.
- Where does the project fit?
- Is the organization only interested in the ‘product of the project’.
- Does executing the project bring some enhanced organizational capabilities?
Indeed, enhanced capabilities might result from assembling the resources for the projects and gaining in organizational-wide experience. However, this is left to chance unless you are thinking and acting strategically.
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Your project may involve implementing change, or to build some capability internally for orchestrating change. The strategy may be to redeploy team members after the project to other change management projects. That is a realistic scenario for an internal project.
In cases where projects are for external clients – that is, projects for profit – then the organization will usually want to enhance its capabilities by using the project to gain one or more of the following:
- Domain knowledge
- Technical knowledge
- Geographic presence
- And more
The goal will be to leverage the enhanced capability to win similar future revenue-producing projects.
To build a strategic team, again there are several analytical questions to consider:
- What is needed, and what best supports your organization’s overall strategy?
- What provides additional strategic advantage, via the organization of the projects?
- Are there particular relationships – with vendors, users and stakeholders, or suppliers – that will be useful?
- Are there internal relationships with other people and project teams that would be helpful to cultivate.
It all come sown to careful strategic analysis followed by strong action.
What Themes Advance the Organization’s Strategy?
In addition to skills and relationships, there are other team configuration themes that can be helpful to advancing the organizational strategy.
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For example, configuration themes could include deciding among:
- Virtual teams – Virtual teams may be a major theme of the organizational strategy. Virtual teams provide flexibility, widen the range of talent available, and may be more efficient and cost-effective.
- Distributed teams – The team may need to be partially collocated or at least physically distributed on site in multiple locations.
- Collocated teams – The team’s function may be enhanced by, or simply require, that other teammates be in the same location. And there may be organizational needs, beyond the needs of the individual project, where collocation enhances the strategic position.
Each of the above configuration themes could then be refined into:
- Similar teams
- Uniform teams
- Homogeneous teams
- A plethora of other nuances for the given situation
Finally, diverse versus similar/uniform teams may be a major theme. This can be very specific; you may want teams with similarity/uniformity versus diversity in combination across a number of different key factors. While it is common wisdom that diverse groups of people naturally bring some advantages by drawing each other out of ingrained ways of working and producing a better functioning unit, it can work the other way, too. There are certain functions, common ways of thinking, and cultural elements that are important to hold commonly across the team.
A prime example of creating an effective combination of similarity/uniformity along with diversity in optimal combination is the military. The US Army, for example, is a very diverse collection of people in terms of ethnicity, family background, and initial skills, but the commonalities when they come together in terms of culture, attitude, character, and other non-technical skills are unmistakable. This is built into people and the organization while developing people with a diversity of technical skills, and it functions very well together. It is important to realize what attributes are required of everyone commonly on the team, and what attributes can be individually defined to produce the diversity element.
The key is to consider them not only within the context of the project, but also within the context of the organization.
Build a Strategic Team – For Project And Organization
When you knit all the ideas together, you end up with optimized teams and an optimized organization – a team that has been built strategically.
With this type of strategic team building approach, your efforts should result in an organization that is deliberately optimized for the kinds of technical and non-technical skills, internal relationships, and external relationships that it desires. The optimized team should also fit the needs of the specific project – but a project that is strategically aligned with the organization. The result is not only an optimized team, and an organization that is optimized for its longer-term strategy.