6 Steps for Creating a Successful Work Team

Overhead view of members of a working team standing on an ascending arrow-line.
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Many times when you're hired or promoted to a leadership role, the team is already there. You have to adapt your ideas and plans to fit the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the existing team.

But sometimes you get to create your own team. This can happen on special projects when you're pulling people from different departments or when you are creating a new department.

If you're in the situation where you get to create a team from scratch (or have the opportunity to add headcount to an existing group), here's how to make the best team possible.

Clearly Identify the Task at Hand

If your task is vague, you will have a tough time knowing what skills you need to find. You’re likely tempted to jump right in and hire people with the general skills that fit your overall department. (I need marketing people! I need creative people!)

But to paraphrase an old adage, hire in haste, repent at leisure. If you start out with the wrong people, you'll regret it.

Identify the Skills Needed to Complete the Project

You need to identify the soft skills as well as the hard skills you need. Will the employee need to communicate results and progress to senior management? Are there skills that you need that aren't going to be obvious to you without deeply thinking through the issue at hand?

For instance, if you're putting together a team to implement a new software system, you obviously need system designers, programmers, and project managers. But you also need a person who can talk to the end-users to get a clear understanding of their true needs. You need a trainer who understands the technical side of the implementation and can explain it to the non-techy people. 

If you know you need super smart and independent workers, you know that you also need a person who can bring those independent workers together. Is that you? That's generally the manager or team leader's job, but knowing your own limitations is critical to team building success.

Identify the People

If you want to build an internal team, you have advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that you already know the people from whom you are choosing. You know their strengths and weaknesses. You know who is good at technical activities. You know who is creative. You know who is whiny. You know who can sell ice cubes in a blizzard.

The disadvantages are that you've got to pull the team together from your existing staff members, so you can't fix any of the potential team members' weaknesses that already exist. You have to deal with the politics of pulling someone from another group's staff. You can't ignore the fact that you can damage relationships if you steal too many of the best people from other departments.

Additionally, you may know that John is the best possible person, but John has no interest in being on your team or John's manager won't let him join. You may find pulling together an internal team super frustrating.

If you have to hire from the outside, you've got to think long and hard about budgets. Sometimes you're tempted to throw all of your money into a superstar, but then you have to hire entry-level people for all the other positions. They may not balance out your superstar.

Other times, you may think that the best path is to hire cheap help and get as many people as possible for the smallest salaries possible. This doesn't work either. While you have to work within your budget, you may want to hire a superstar, or you may need a whole bunch of worker bees. Give this careful consideration when you select your team members

Hire in the Right Order

Don't hire the administrative assistant first. You may think, “OK, I'll get this out of the way.” But, the admin's job is to help the rest of the team and support them. If you hire this person first, you need to find additional people with whom she can work, instead of the other way around.

Start with your most senior person and work down. You want your most senior person to help you with the additional hiring—either internally or externally.

Be Honest in Your Hiring

Don't just extol the virtues of working on this team. You need to state the challenges honestly. “We'll implement a new software system. You will work hard and put in long hours. We'll experience pushback from senior managers and I will fight for the team, but it will be difficult.”

In this way, you'll help staff members know what to expect. Don't lie and say the team’s task is a bed of roses unless you really think it will be.

Remember to Manage the Team

Once you get your team together, you've got to manage it. Great teams seldom run well without a great leader. That's your job. Make sure you work to make the team cohesive and hard-working. Don't ask more of them than you ask of yourself. If you do all of this, you'll have a great team and a successful project.


Suzanne Lucas is a freelance writer who spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.