Be Careful When Choosing Team Members

Posted by Kristin Arnold on June 2, 2008

I was chatting with Ron, an academic department head, about how well his team worked together, especially since they came from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. We agreed the team had learned good teaming skills through their careers. After all, if you have been on a great team, it’s much easier to replicate the process. If you don’t know what a great team is like, then it’s pretty hard to hit the mark!

But then Ron said something very important that I believe is critical to team success, “We learned how to choose good team mates.” Many team leaders gather ’round a bunch of people and give them a goal to set, a task to accomplish, a process to be improved or a plan to implement. One of the most critical components is the careful selection of your team members.

You need to have team members who:

  • Know Their Stuff. The process owner or subject matter experts (SME) who know the technical side of the issue or process.
  • Know the Process. Facilitator(s) who knows how to get from the current state to the desired state using process tools and techniques. In a high performing team, the team members can take turns facilitating the team meetings. Otherwise, you may want to use an internal company resource or an external facilitator/process consultant.
  • Touch the Process. Include those people (or representatives) who impact the process along the way. They have a good sense of what is going on, where the pain is and what to do about it. They are usually the “make or break” people during implementation.
  • Can Make a Decision. Often the fatal flaw of many cross-functional teams, the team members must have the ability to make the decision on the spot, versus take it back up the food chain. The person must be able to represent their department/division/functionality and have the authority or influence to make a decision for that department.

At this point, you have at least four people on your team (unless you have a “two-fer” — one person who wears two hats). Try not to have more than ten people on a team. A cozy number of core team members is six to eight people. You may decide to bring in other team members on an “as needed” basis. The key is to let them know that you may need them to participate and keep them informed of your progress. Then you won’t have to spend a tremendous amount of time bringing them up to speed.

Consider including:

  • A Customer. If possible, include one or two of your best, worst and/or average customers of the team’s product or process. Encourage these customers to think “strategically” in that they are representing all of your customers. If you can’t fathom having customers on your team, at least allow their voice to be heard. Designate at least one person to “check back” with customers, test ideas, and bring customer data.
  • A Supplier. If your process is dependent on inbound products, raw goods or information, you may want to consider inviting your key supplier(s).
  • A Specialist. Maybe your team is going to need to survey a population, statistically analyze data or construct work breakdown structures for a project plan. If your team doesn’t have the skills to do this, get help! Bring the “expert” to the team — not necessarily to do it for them, but to show them how to do it. Now those team members will be able to transfer those learned skills to other teams!

Once you have identified the right positions on the team, make sure you have the right mix of people:

  • Volunteers. It’s always better to have people who want to be included in the process rather than prisoners.
  • Diverse Strengths and Abilities. A team is greater than the sum of its individual parts. So make sure you have a “big picture” person as well as one who is detail oriented, fast paced, slow paced, etc. You are striving for the right combination of people to complement each other and build on each other’s strengths.
  • Team Skills. Working in a team requires new skills and behaviors. As Ron noted, it is always easier if you have seasoned veterans with positive team experiences and skills. Because they believe in the team’s potential, they raise the entire team’s standards and expectations.
  • Who Picks? If it’s a brand new team, usually the team leader and/or sponsor selects the team members. If the team has been in place for awhile, get the team involved. Those who pick ’em tend to keep ’em.

Question: Do you have other ideas for valuable members to add to your team?


Posted in Roles on by Kristin Arnold.

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