How to Pick Your Team

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We’ve all heard the phrase, “Take one for the team,” as a reference to some selfless, or so we hope, sacrifice an individual makes for the sake of the greater good or the larger organization. But just because we’ve all heard that phrase does not mean we must subscribe to it. The nature of teamwork does involve sacrifice, but picking the right teammates can mitigate or lessen the sacrifices required to complete your IT task or project thoroughly and efficiently.

Picking the right team players involves quite a bit of assessment before you begin to allocate tasks. First, you must examine the purpose of the team you’d like to create. What particular skills or abilities does it require? That will offer indicators of who in the organization will be best suited to accomplish certain tasks. It’s always beneficial to have some team members with expert knowledge, but attitude, communication skills, considerations regarding existing work load and responsibilities, and availability are equally relevant. Ask questions and insist on straightforward, honest answers before you prepare a short list of likely candidates.

Which of the available candidates in your IT department or in other areas of the company can meet your needs? Also, which of the available candidates has expressed interest in participating in team-oriented projects? In some cases, it’s better to have a marginally less experienced team member with tons of enthusiasm and an openly expressed willingness to contribute than to have the perfect person as a reluctant participant because he or she has a billion other obligations and deadlines to meet. Similarly, when evaluating potential team members, identify who is already struggling to maintain their current work load. This person might not be the best person to add to your team, as his or her focus and concentration may not be up to the teams’ task, but might be a good alternate. If the person’s expertise is particularly relevant, pick the next best candidate, but have your expert available for consultation. Sometimes even with the best screening methods in place, you come up with a bad fit. Have alternatives available for all key positions on the team to ensure that if someone is not working out or leaves abruptly, they can be replaced with a minimum of fuss. Furthermore, inform the alternates that their services may be needed so they can prepare.

Which of your proposed team members has a great, consistent attitude and lots of energy? A team member with the right attitude can infuse late nights with a few laughs to ease the stress. Be leery of otherwise excellent team candidates with a reputation for explosive outbursts or random incidents of unreliability. Working in a team requires a significant level of discipline, respect, trust and team spirit. Divas, both men and women, are best left for the stage where grandstanding is encouraged, expected and welcomed.

Who is more cautious, more detail-oriented and better able to view the team and its project or mission with a big-picture perspective? Who has a reputation for being a high or low performer? Who is great at idea generation, and who is great at analyzing the workability of new ideas given the constraints of the project, deadline and available resources? In a good team there is a high level of interdependence, which means that people with different strengths can readily, easily and hopefully seamlessly play off of one another. You want your team players passing pieces around the metaphoric table to the best person to handle the job.

Who is good at keeping meetings on track, or would be a good choice to act as the voice of reason and step in if meetings get heated? Or, who could act as the team leader and handle the more administrative side of team work to ensure things are running smoothly and on schedule? Ideally all team members will have excellent verbal and written communication skills, but someone may stand out from the rest as a likely moderator. Don’t be afraid to nominate this person for the role. Inform the team that this person has the authority to cut things short or redirect things when needed during regularly scheduled progress meetings.

Who might be a good value-add from another department or even another company location? What are their competencies? You need a blend of all kinds of people, personalities and specialties to form an effective team. Team members with diverse skill sets, areas of expertise and backgrounds, in addition to diverse demographic criteria such as age, race and sex, bring variety, cross-cultural flavor and different viewpoints to the mix. Having a diverse team often makes it easier to assign tasks since a variety of people usually have a variety of skills, and if they don’t, look around for candidates who do.

Creating an effective team is like building the base of a structure. Without that initial foundation, nothing else works. The foundation of team building is asking probing questions of potential team members to determine their level of interest, any particularly useful skill sets and to confirm their availability. Look for good fits, some alternatives, great communicators and a diverse roster of likely players who can offer a mélange of opinions and experience.

–Kellye Whitney,

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