How to Leverage a Trusted Core Team

By: Alec Talan

Right now, projects face more obstacles than ever. Companies accustomed to working in person have rapidly moved to having remote teams. We have nothing but uncertainty in terms of economic stability, project budgets, and what tomorrow looks like.

Short of a crystal ball, having a trusted core team can mitigate many of these challenges. That team can minimize ramp-up time on a project and keep you from wasting time policing, parenting, and working to build trust so you can focus on what’s important: the project.

Your core team is your seed crystal, with which you can build bigger and better things.

What a Trusted Core Team Looks Like

All teams are not created equal, which I’m sure you know if you have a few projects under your belt. In my mind, while the makeup of any trusted core team can vary from one organization to another, every trusted core team has a few common features: 

  • It is made up of people who you have confidence can work well together because they have worked together in the past on multiple engagements where they successfully tackled a variety of challenges
  • They have demonstrated experience engaging with extended team newbies and getting them indoctrinated into operating as a highly effective delivery team
  • They can rapidly execute strategy with little more than high-level guidance because they are experts at operationalizing vision into tactical action plans. 

Often the biggest causes of lag on getting a new project going rapidly are the time and effort to translate strategy into a working model and getting new stakeholders on a project to operate with agility and formal controls required for business transformations. So having a trusted group of seasoned veterans on the team to coach and demonstrate what good looks like can go a long way to getting your project mobilized fast and executing like a well-oiled machine.

When you think of this trusted core team, think of your favorite Mission Impossible movie. You need specialists who understand the ins and outs of a successful project and who each bring their own tried and true strategies to the table.

A Trusted Team Saves You Time and Money

A gentleman I worked with in the past reached out and asked for me to put together a program governance playbook he needed for a new digital transformation initiative, “like we did before but bigger this time,” with little other instructions.  I replied, “of course, consider it done.”

Because of our past work together, I knew I could deliver exactly what he wanted almost in my sleep. Hiring someone completely new, it would have taken that person weeks longer because of the onboarding needed to understand the way this leader envisioned effective program governance. 

Now consider the force multiplier of having not just one person but an entire team wired like that. When you bring on your Mission Impossible team who already knows and trusts each other, you don’t waste time with the getting-to-know-you process. They already know how they work together and how to work well with the larger project team. They know what needs to be done, to what standards, in what time, and also know who needs to be nudged (and how) to meet deadlines.

They create an effective, collective, and collaborative enterprise, and they don’t waste time or money figuring it out+.

No (Industry) Experience Necessary

You may have team members who have worked on consumer product projects in the past, so does it make sense to bring them on for, say, a medical device project? Absolutely.

Doing things well together is more important than having deep industry or sector knowledge. You will have subject matter experts (SMEs) for that. But knowing how to spin up and drive a collective enterprise of a hundred or a couple hundred people is its own science and art that sets you up for success. People who have worked well together on past projects and who have expertise getting people organized and driving project success is ultimately more valuable than having deep domain knowledge.

It’s like party planners: for a good team of planners, the theme doesn’t matter. Good planners make a good party. Like Coachella. Bad planners, or those who simply don’t know how to work together well, make…Fyre Festival. Which party do you want to go to?

If You Don’t Have a Trusted Core Team Available…

Not everyone has the luxury of being able to leverage internal people who work together seamlessly and who are available. The all-stars you want may be booked on other projects, or they may have moved on to other work. The next best thing is to bring in outside experts who do the same, and have a track record of working with newbies and turning them into effective teams.

These experts are essentially your Green Berets: they are the squad that will raise an army. They’re good coaches who can train people to operate together effectively. At the end of the day, you need to have confidence that you have a management organization of highly effective project leaders who do not require handholding and who are adaptive and practical to tailor the project operating model to the environment at hand. And seasoned experts will always move faster and accomplish more in a shorter time frame than novices who have to learn as they go. 

You don’t have many bullets in your arsenal during COVID, but having a core team that is your nucleus for getting things going fast and right is a great asset. While you can’t build camaraderie and trust with offsite events like you did pre-COVID, you can jump-start your initiative with a team of individuals who will kick the project off quickly and efficiently.