3 Tips for Building a Strong Project Team

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A great emphasis is often placed on the selection of a project manager. Much has been written about the need for training, credentials, experience and ability to engage with stakeholders as the keys to a successful project.


But, I have not seen a similar level of attention paid to the selection of project team members. In fact, I believe many project stakeholders think there are only two roles on a project: project manager and everyone else. It’s often thought that project managers can surmount every difficulty a project may encounter—and that other team members are less of a consideration.


In reality, the selection of team members is as important as the selection of a project manager.


Here are some techniques I use to make good choices as I put together a project team:  

  1. Match Personalities to the Urgency of Project Completion   

Every project has a dynamic driven by the urgency of completion. This dynamic varies by the rigidity of the finish date, required project duration and the number of outside dependencies. Examples of projects with high levels of urgency include regulatory compliance, merger and acquisition and internal corporate mandate projects. Projects with lower completion urgency tend to be longer in duration, but also often are quite complex in nature—think transformations, large system integrations, etc.

The dynamics around urgency of completion help shape the selection criteria for project team members. For higher urgency completion projects, I tend to go with people who exhibit high creativity and the ability to deal with high uncertainty. For lower urgency completion projects, I typically select people who are more measured in their actions and show consistent execution over long periods of time.

I also try to select one person for the team who has the opposite social style as others to serve as a counterpoint, which can be very healthy for a project. This ensures that a balanced perspective is being employed by the project team to resolve issues.


2. Look for Learning Experiences

When selecting team members, I ask them to share the greatest learning experiences they’ve had on past projects. These learning experiences can take the form of working on troubled projects, handling issues with project team members or managing adversity in their personal lives.

These learning experiences build confidence and character that is desired not only for the person being selected for the project, but also for mutual growth with other people on the project. Effective project resources tend to exhibit strong performance in the face of adversity. Project team members with these skills are essential to building a strong, synergistic project team.   

A lack of learning experiences tends to indicate a more narrow range of capabilities, which would not contribute to building a strong project team.  


  1. Identify a Second-in-Command   

Project managers are often pulled in many different directions, which can slow a project’s progress.

To remedy this situation, make one of your team members your second-in-command on the project. They can backfill in times of high engagement to help resolve issues and keep the project team going.

The other benefit to having a second-in-command is the valuable development opportunities the role provides. He or she gets to experience active project management while having the safety of the project manager for guidance. I have found over the years that people who perform well in second-in-command roles perform extremely well when they become full-fledged project managers.


I once had a senior project manager tell me, “Your team is only as strong as your weakest link.” Picking the right team is as important as selecting the project to manage. A rush to staff team members quite often leads to a re-staffing exercise that consumes precious time and energy, not to mention being disruptive to the team. Considerable care and patience are required to build an effective project team.


What good and bad choices have you made when selecting team members for a project? I’d like to hear about them.

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: November 10, 2018 06:50 AM | Permalink

Comments (14)

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Interesting insights. Thank you, Kevin. In my experience, team members are assigned based on allocation needs and capacity. That said, learning of, and leveraging experiences, as well as setting expectations and creating a safety zone will aide in strong team formations. Setting a strong team is not a one-time effort or decision, rather an ongoing journey.

Thanks for sharing the insightful article on building a strong project team, Kevin.

Same sentiments with Andrew on assigning members based on allocation needs and capacity, and building a strong team is an ongoing journey.

Hi Andrew & Pang...thanks for the thoughts. Yes would agree that allocation needs and capacity are the fundamentals of staffing teams..hope these additional considerations help you build great teams.

BTW your comments are getting me thinking about a few topics for my next blog!

Awesome, Kevin. Looking forward to it! And, yes, absolutely, your insights are well taken.

Points 2 & 3, experienced the same as mentioned. Point 1, need to explore while get chance to select the new members.

Very interesting, thanks for sharing

Capacity of team members to contribute to team performance is an important aspect to be considered when team members are assigned. It's better to have a team with diverse skills capable of challenging & enhancing the performance of each other.

Kevin, excellent tips - thank you! Only the last point has been obvious to me, it has been too easy to disregard the others. With the 2nd point, we often look for "like for like" previous experience forgetting that learning experiences from a different type of project may be highly relevant.
I would add that a corollary of your advice is that we may want to consider contingency plans to choose to swap out key resources either depending on the phase of the project or for when a different dynamic is required to recover the project. The "horses for courses" approach.

We are used to prizing resource continuity but maybe we should plan for a swap out (when not enforced by e.g. illness or leaving the company) and hope we don't have to implement the plan ?

If so, this would require good communication with resource owners and other stakeholders to ensure we have a plan we can implement if/when the situation arises.

Tip 1 can't be underestimated.

If you look at a project like a professional sports team and the project manager like its coach. Would that sports team win anything without the right talent? Probably not. Even the best coach in the league will have a very rough season without the right players. So definitely choose your players wisely.

Nice set of suggestions, Like the 3rd, lived a situation with a poor choice.

What I feel gets frequently misused is the expression “Project Team Member.”

At the very start of the formation of the project, what you really are doing is assigning people to a new project group.

Unless and until there is evidence of teamwork, it is premature to immediately begin calling each other team members.

Yeah, might seem a bit clumsy at first to call each other group mates, but I’ll bet it accelerates the team formation process in real time.

Hi all...thanks for the great feedback...we never seem to stop building project teams..especially with highly complex projects.

William...check out my upcoming blog as it relates to your comments...a portion of it covers off team considerations when assuming an existing project...

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