Building a project dream team: Lessons from Herb Brooks

5 must-ask questions to ensure that you're picking the right players for your project team.

by Ty Kiisel, @task - In 1980, a team comprised of college hockey players from around the U.S. beat an undefeated Soviet team to win the gold medal. This team of unknowns, coached by Herb Brooks, certainly didn't start out as a dream team.

"I'm not looking for the best players," said Brooks. "I'm looking for the right ones." Coach Brooks wasn't looking for individual superstars as much as he was looking for a team that could play well and win together. Which they did.

And, so, in the spirit of Herb Brooks, here are 5 must-ask questions to ensure that you're picking the right players for your project team:

1. Do they have the skills I need to make the project successful? Because I will be relying on them to do their jobs (so I can do mine), I always look for individuals who have demonstrated that they know what they are doing.

2. Do they have the ability to learn and stretch? I always look for people who aren't afraid to try new things and think "outside the box". I learned a long time ago that collaboration with people of different skills can be very productive.

3. Will they play and work well together? A superstar who is a jerk doesn't help the team. He or she might be highly skilled, or even the best at what they do, but if they don't get along with anyone I won't add them to my team.

4. Are they willing to take constructive feedback? I don't call it criticism for a reason. Criticism doesn't help anyone, but feedback and honest critique can help a willing learner improve and increase their skills. That includes team leads and project managers. If a potential team member "never does anything wrong," they will more than likely have to be "perfect" on someone else's team.

5. Can I count on them at crunch time? Every project seems to run into times when people need to put forth a little extra effort to make things happen. It seems like no matter how well you plan, there are always things that crop up to cause trouble. It's important that we can count on each other to pitch in with a little extra effort when this happens.

Brooks was famous for saying, "Legs feed the wolf." In other words, wolves eat if they are better able to chase down their prey -- victory just doesn't drop in their lap. Successful teams share a willingness to work hard and give their very best.

What do you do to make sure you have the right people on your project team?

Ty Kiisel writes about project management issues and best practices for @task Project Management Software. Follow Ty on Twitter: @tykiisel

For more project management tips, see:

Project management: Scrapping a doomed project

The essential project management reading list

Project Management: 4 Questions To Ask Before Starting Any Project

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