How to build an A-team

When it comes to running a project having your A team behind you contributes in a big way to how successful you will be. Building a good team can be challenging; you may have to use particular resource, be budget constrained or not have approval for the right sorts of people.  We’ve shared a few of our thoughts on things you should consider when building your A-team.

#1 Determine project tasks

Firstly, determine the high level tasks the project needs to deliver. You may already have this in a high level plan. If not simply break down the delivery into the key steps.

Task = an activity or output that is required to deliver the project

Task Skill Role

#2 Map roles and skills to project tasks

For each high level project task make a note of the job roles and skills needed to deliver the task.

Role = responsibilities of each job or person on the team. Each role is likely to require multiple skills. There may be several of the same role on any project e.g. multiple programmers.

Skill = experience, training, qualification or expertise in a particular area

By doing this you will ensure that no roles or associated skills are missed. In addition by providing a link between tasks and roles you automatically justify the need for each role. Justification can be helpful if you need to get approval or funding.

Map tasks to roles and skills

#3 Understand when and for how long you need each role

Remember that you may not need all the roles all the time. Make a note of roughly when each role is needed and for how long. Some roles may only be required part-time on the project, or during a particular stage, whilst you may need several of another type of role. Essentially this is your resource plan.

All you need to do now is to get names in boxes for the roles identified / approved!

Map people to roles

#4 Do you know anyone?

If you’ve had a strong team in the past it’s great to start a new project with some or all of those people. The benefits are pretty obvious in that you get a head start on relationship building when some or all of the team know one another. You have a good idea of what people can and can’t do. You will know how best to work with those people.

You do need to be a little bit careful if you have a mixed team of old and new members as you don’t want any newbies to feel left out. It’s worth making an effort to make sure anyone new is integrated and talking to the rest of the team as soon as possible.

You may also have a strong recommendation for a particular person. By all means go all out to get that person. You might need to introduce yourself and do a bit of a sales pitch, but there is nothing wrong with trying to get the best that you can.

#5 What to do when you need to recruit

It could be that no one you know or have available fits the bill for some of the roles you have on your project team. In this case you need to go to the open market and recruit. The very first thing you should do is write a job specification for each role you are recruiting for. Make a note of:

  • What the role entails
  • What the jobholder will be responsible for
  • Where the job will be based
  • Any specific skills or qualifications the applicant should possess
  • Number of years experience the applicant should have
  • Whether the role is contract or permanent
  • If contract, how long the contract will be for
  • Rate of pay

Once you have a job specification you will need to advertise the position and interview appropriate candidates. We won’t go into where and how to advertise as this varies from country to country and organisation to organisation. If you’re unsure you can contact your internal HR department (if you have one) or search the best way to recruit for they types of roles you have. There is stacks of information on the web.

When you are interviewing candidates you will need assess whether they have the requisite skills but also whether they will be a good fit personality wise with the team. Sometimes I will even compromise on the core skills in favour of personality as the right people when working together really can achieve more than 100%!

#6 Using an external consultancy or third party

If you’ve got a lot of roles to recruit for or some particularly specialist skills you may consider using an external consultancy to deliver some or even all of the project.  You should write a scope of work for the parts of the project that any external consultancy is delivering. You might also need to go through a formal selection process where you request quotations or bids for the work. If you are working with a third party you will need to ensure the relevant legal agreements are in place. It is always necessary to be clear about what you expect from the third party and in turn what they will require from you, for example they may need you to review design documentation within 5 days of receiving it. You will need to be geared up to meet their requirements.

Recognise that working with a third party supplier is exactly that, working WITH them. It is a two-way street and they need to understand your requirements and needs as much as you need to understand theirs.

#7 Motivation, positivity and all the fluffy stuff that really works!

So you’ve got your team sorted. Chances are, unless you are really very lucky, it’s not quite the team you were hoping for. Perhaps you’ve ended up with people who haven’t got exactly the right skill set or don’t get on with you or other members of the team. There might also be some unfamiliar people or a third party supplier that you haven’t worked with before.

The key is to start as you mean to go on. The behaviour of the team is so often a reflection of how the project manager behaves. The best chance of the project succeeding is if the team works cohesively together. Behaving with consideration and integrity, and maintaining a positive attitude will help to get the team in the right frame of mind. Have a couple of kick-off meetings where everyone is present. Sometimes this needs to be virtual if the team if the team are geographically dispersed. Set the tone of the meeting (I normally go with friendly, approachable but decisive). Do a lot of listening early on so that you get the measure of each individual on the team and work out the best way of dealing with them to keep them motivated. Encourage the team to talk to one another. No one should speak over anyone else, everyone should respect each other. This all sounds like a speech at a motivational conference (the kind that in all honesty I really dislike) but if you look back and reflect on your behaviour on every project that you have run can you truly say that you behaved with as much integrity and positive attitude as you could have done? I can’t!

If you’ve got team members who are not as capable or don’t quite have the requisite skills you can try swapping some of the tasks around. Encourage a culture of sharing what each team member is doing, and how. Get the team to review each other’s’ work and ask for support if necessary. All of these behaviours will help reduce the risk of weaker members of the team. It’s far better to identify issues early on and deal with them than have people cover them up and leave them to the last minute to resolve. I prefer to work in a ‘no-blame’ culture on projects. If people don’t understand or have made a mistake, it’s ok. It’s better they feel they can say so.

If you have team members with a negative attitude, just keep on listening and behaving in a positive manner towards them. Eventually, if enough of the team are positive it will rub off (although admittedly it can be painful along the way!).

#8 Communication

Communication amongst the team is an absolute must.

Firstly, everyone needs to be absolutely clear on what it is they should be delivering. Secondly, the team should be communicating regularly with one another and with the project manager. In this way risks are dealt with early, dependencies identified and misalignment of tasks is avoided.

I personally favour a SCRUM type meeting for 15 minutes at the same time every day where everyone gives a very quick update on what they did the day before and what they are doing the next day, key risks and issues are covered off and any frustrations aired. You can read our post ‘Daily team meeting – 5 tips for making it count’. 

#9 Be a leader

It might be stating the obvious, but a project manager must be a leader. This means that they should be confident, able to take decisions, but also to motivate and inspire their team. The drive of the project manager will drive the rest of the team. Some people take a very aggressive approach to leadership, but once again, personally I don’t find this works nor does it demonstrate the positive behaviour you want to see in the team.

It’s ok for a leader to turn to the team for advice. Often the best leaders are those who know their weaknesses and draw on others experience to fill the gaps.

#10 Say thank you

And after all of that, remembering to thank the team members on a regular basis is not only polite but goes a long way to making them feel appreciated. On my last project I managed to organise bottles of wine for a couple of superstars on my team who had pulled out all the stops, which was no mean feat as I was based in the UK and they were working in multiple locations in the US.

If you’re all located in one office, the odd box of nice biscuits or chocolates goes down well. My absolute favourite was on a project I worked on in Australia where the weekly update included sausage rolls for everyone!


Now it’s our turn to say thanks to you for reading this post. Have you had a good or bad team experience? Share in the comments at the bottom of the page. You can find and follow me personally here on LinkedIn.

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Building your A-team