Establishing your Team

One of the first things a manager entering a new position has to confront is to establish a team that will get the goals accomplished. Not many managers have the luxury that Dan Briggs or Jim Phelps had in Mission Impossible to start with a hand picked team,

Mission Impossible screenshot

MI Team Selection

so you will most likely inherit a team partially designed by former managers. This is a blessing and a curse; a blessing as you will have experienced people and the work will flow easily forward without interruption as a result of the management change, a curse because now, after assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the current team members you will probably have to make some difficult choices and change out some of the players.

Goal Clarity

First off you need to ensure you have absolute goal clarity in order for you to be able to develop your team around it. Build the team with an eye towards the mid term expectations. If you develop a team for challenges that will be there in the long run they’ll get bored handling today’s work and if you build a team ready for today’s challenges but not capable of meeting the expectations of future goals, you will have to make too many changes too soon.

The Players

Get to know the players already on your team and carefully evaluate their contributions. Coming in and starting to exchange people may not be the right approach. Working with people whose strength and weaknesses you already know and can work with may be the better option than finding out what strengths have been exaggerated by your new hire and what weaknesses have not been discovered during the hiring process. It is not always about hiring the right people but usually about doing the right things with the people you hired.

The Structure

An age old debate in putting teams together centers around the question if you design jobs for the task at hand and go out to find people that fit those roles or that you hire great talent and designs jobs around those people. For me both approaches can work, the important thing to watch out for is to ensure that you will be able to replace people as they leave and building an organization around the talent of one individual may leave you exposed when that individual leaves. Tweaking job design to provide some retention incentives though is something that may very well work and be easily redirected once people leave and others get hired. The other component in building the organizational structure around the team is to ensure it remains flexible enough to respond quickly to changing circumstances. Build in redundancies, look for cross training opportunities and promote from within to enhance retention of knowledge and  experience in the organization.


Do not compromise on quality. There is no excuse for making a sub optimal hiring decision just because you want to get a team together fast, or due to work pressure. If necessary spend money on outsourcing some work or contracting in some work and consultants but do not compromise on the quality of your own team.

Learners vs Specialists

When eventually hiring people go for the learners rather than the specialists. We discussed this before but you want to have people that are not too set in their ways and a specialists who have spent their lifetime working with certain tools will always try to solve your problems with the tools they know so well and may lack an open mind to new approaches. Obviously if you need someone with certain certifications or experience you’ll go for those qualifications first but even then you need to try to focus on people’s flexibility and openness for new skills and approaches.

Establishing your team is one of the most important management tasks, treat it as such and give it the time it needs.

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