Managing a "Pop-up" Team
Getting Instant Results From People Who May Not Have Met
It can take months, sometimes years, to build an effective, high-performing and motivated team – but what if you had only a few weeks, days, or even a few hours to do so?
As a leader of a temporary group, how do you get from introductions to slick teamwork without the luxury of the time that it usually takes to build an effective team.
In this article, we explore a seven-step strategy for getting a temporary team to "hit the ground running."
Seven Steps for Managing a Temporary Team
Temporary or "pop-up" teams bring numerous challenges. For example, you'll likely be working to tight deadlines, with little time to fix any problems that arise.
However, given the short timeframes and highly specific tasks temporary teams frequently encounter, they often work with heightened levels of energy, commitment, and unity of purpose.
Moreover, they can often find quick and creative solutions to problems, and develop new skills rapidly.
1. Define and Manage the Scope of the Project
Your team needs to be focused to achieve its objectives. You need to manage the project carefully to avoid work spreading beyond its initial parameters, as this can lead to delays and increased costs.
To guard against this, you need to define the scope of the job that's required, and ensure that your team members understand it. This means setting SMART objectives that specify the expected team and individual outcomes.
2. Adapt Your Skill Set
If you're used to managing in a traditional team structure, you'll likely already have many of the skills that you need to manage a temporary team. Flexibility, resilience and emotional intelligence are particularly useful, for example.
But, you'll need to shift your focus from the longer-term aspects of team building to short-term gains.
For example, it's more important to facilitate collaboration between your team members than it is to get to know each person in depth. You'll also have to focus on helping them to learn new skills and tasks faster.
3. Assert Yourself
It's crucial to establish your credentials in a situation where there's little time for building trust, as there may be tasks to allocate almost immediately.
Get everyone together and introduce yourself, succinctly sharing with them your background and skills, so they understand why you're the boss.
It's OK to show that you don't know everything or don't have certain key skills, particularly if this gives someone else the chance to explain something to you. Admitting fallibility makes you more approachable, and opens up opportunities for bonding and collaboration.
4. Emphasize Purpose
A group that has never met before, and which has a varied set of skills, may seem to have little in common. It's important, therefore, to unite people with a strong sense of purpose.
From the outset, emphasize the importance of what you as a team are there to do. Start by holding a briefing meeting to state objectives, to stress commitment to your organization's values, and to seek buy-in from your team. This will help you to carry your vision for the task or project into reality.
Our article, The Pyramid of Purpose, shows how you how to share a sense of purpose quickly and concisely.
5. Structure Your Team's Work
Your team will be together for just a short time, so it's important that they work efficiently straight away.
You can help them by breaking up their work into precise portions. Each one should have clearly defined criteria for completion, and be allocated to specific people, so there's no ambiguity or overlap. See our article on Task Allocation for more information on selecting the right team member to fulfill a specific task. If necessary, be prepared to switch people between roles, if you aren’t getting a good fit.
This may be easy if your team is used to performing similar roles each day, with only personnel and places changing (for example, airline cabin crews). But, an ad hoc group of software developers on a "sprint" may need greater flexibility, so they can use feedback to make prompt, informed decisions about how to proceed.
It's also helpful to have a prompt and decisive decision-making process ready at hand, such as TDODAR, to help you when making decisions under pressure.
You won’t be able to base performance reviews on a long period, so use continuous feedback to keep track of how your team’s performing.
Have quick meetings during which people share feedback with each other. Keep it positive: even if things haven’t gone well, look at problems as opportunities to learn. Lead by example, show that it’s OK to invite and receive feedback, and celebrate success.
Make sure that you define lines of communication within your team clearly, so that team members know who to speak to in specific situations.
For example, you could set up short meetings – perhaps every day – to ensure that everyone knows how things are progressing. Or, have early morning scrum meetings so team members can plan what they need to accomplish during that day.
6. Make People Feel Safe
Team members who come together only occasionally, or for short periods, may not understand their co-workers capabilities or ways of working. They may feel intimidated or lack trust. They may worry what other people think, and feel concerned that asking questions will be viewed as weakness.
It's important, therefore, that people feel psychologically safe, and you can encourage this by spending some time with each team member (however short), and gaining a degree of trust.
Show interest in what they bring to the team, and listen carefully to their concerns. Ask questions about them and their skills, and listen attentively to the answers, showing that you've done so by summarizing what you've been told.
As part of an introductory team meeting, have each team member give a brief outline of their skills and experience, so that everyone knows what their new colleagues are bringing to the team.
7. Manage Conflict
People who don't know each other well sometimes find it hard to reach agreement and can hit an impasse, resulting in missed deadlines. So, leading a temporary team means being able to resolve conflict and reframe it as something positive.
Treat disagreements within your team as opportunities for each side to understand how the other thinks. This may end up having creative or collaborative benefits.
There's always likely to be a degree of conflict within any temporary team, so let all the members know immediately how and with whom they can raise concerns. Also, have a clear and consistent conflict resolution process in place as soon as the team is formed.
Managing a temporary team is challenging. You need to be able to hit the ground running and keep on top of the work, while encouraging your team members to trust each other – and you. So, you'll need to:
- Define the scope of the project.
- Adapt your skill set.
- Assert yourself as a leader.
- Ensure team members have a clear sense of purpose.
- Carefully structure your working practices and channels of communication.
- Foster an environment in which people feel safe to express themselves.
- Manage and reframe conflict.
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