It happens every year: March Madness. Every year during this college basketball tournament, many of us enjoy watching the brackets, mascots and last-minute nail biting contests that lead the season’s best and most polished to the Final Four – and ultimately the championship.
Just like in college basketball, there is no more fundamental key to project success than the recruitment of a high-quality team. Having worked as a team member, senior sponsor and currently as an advisor to dozens of programs, I wanted to share the five most common pitfalls leaders experience when building their teams – as well as some insight on how to avoid them.
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#1: The “A” Players are too Busy
Early in my career I heard this one all the time, stated as fact: legions of excuses about why we couldn’t approach the best person in the firm for a particular role on a new development activity or team. After having a program fall flat for lack of getting the right answer when needed, I started to ignore this advice. The results were dramatic – the truth is, for well-formed projects, your A players will make time. The opposite is also true; if not asked, it sends a powerful message and can label a promising program DOA in the eyes of the rest of the firm.
#2: The “Right” Sponsoring Executive is Over Committed
Good people in every firm are always busy, and this is very true for senior leaders who are constantly triaging their calendars to assure high value-added agendas. A great project leader will manage up well and only send high value information and questions to their senior sponsor, allowing them to be the high leverage resource that they are. If the project leadership falls short in their ability to structure a “Mini Board of Directors” feel to the sponsor’s role, it is a failure of the project team, not the overstretched senior leader.
#3: No Glue
Every group effort, particularly cross-functional ones, need to be led by people adept at creating powerful clarity, identity, and challenge for the team to flourish. In most firms, contributing to the core product line is always the safe path, and there needs to be real non monetary reward to the work of new and change. Working on a high performance cross-functional team that is built to work together can be exhilarating. By using the No A**hole rule (removing people who are disruptive to the mission of the group) and assuring that you would go on a submarine trip with the other team members, you can make it much easier to get the right talent.
#4: No Momentum
If you happen to be in a firm or a business unit where risk taking is talked about as a value, but not lived out, you will struggle mightily to get talent to participate. This is a very common issue with firms I work with, where their last significant program established the business unit they now work in. The anecdote for this issue is to have a regular cadence of projects that are highlighted as key at town hall or department meetings, with visible rewards for participants. If it has been some time, a quick low-risk program can be quite helpful to “prime the pump.”
When doing a program kickoff, you would be surprised at how many groups never consider the possibility of onboarding a team member from outside the firm. In today’s day and age, it is highly likely that at least one of the seats on your team is best filled by someone from an upstream supplier or downstream customer. There are two ways to seek these team members. The first is to be active in industry forums at your peer level, and take note when you meet someone who has a viewpoint that adds to your understanding or insight. The second is to task the senior members of your team with reaching out to their peers on other boards for candidates. It takes serious effort to escape this trap, but I can tell you from experience with multiple projects you will not be disappointed. One recent example was an insight developed for the need for installation hardware for radio equipment for the Department of Transportation that could be installed while wearing heavy leather safety gloves in a bucket truck. This was only found by inviting an industry participant into the product planning team, and listening carefully to the key issues they had.
By being aware of these five issues and applying yourself to solving them, you’ll dramatically raise your ability to source a great team and deliver the goods. If you’d like to read more on this topic, I would suggest you take a look here and here.
Are you ready to begin an initiative or have a team that is bogged down on the journey? Let’s talk – please call or email me at 847-651-1014.
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