Have you noticed that team performance goes down when the team’s structure changes? Resource changes on projects could be adding in a new individual, or plugging the gap when someone leaves.
Research by academics at the University of Osijek in Croatia shows that, even for a small project team, structure changes negatively affect the team’s organizational culture on a short-term basis, and also decrease the team’s productivity.
You’ve probably seen it in action in your own teams. Depending on the situation, teams can take a while to recover from a change in personnel, and there is often conflict on the journey.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
With a bit of consideration and a few smart changes, you can successfully navigate introducing new resources to an established project team, whether that’s a new hire or a short term expert contractor to fill a particular need.
Here are some tips to manage the transition to a new team organization chart when your experience resource changes on projects.
Use a roles and responsibilities document
Whether you write a document or use a RACI matrix, it’s really important to create clarity about who is doing what on the project.
When you introduce a new resource to the project, go back over the established roles and responsibilities and see what, if anything, needs to change. Typically, the new starter has been recruited for a specific purpose, and if you are bringing in someone external as either a permanent or temporary hire, they will have a job description or contract that was used for the recruitment effort. This is a good place to start. You’ll also have access to their resumé which will enable you to identify their strengths.
Often, new joiners bring a slightly different skillset to the person who was in the role before, so they can contribute in different ways. And if there wasn’t someone in post before, you may have to document a whole new set of work tasks that cover the new specialist role.
Roles and responsibilities aren’t set in stone. As you work on building the team, and they get to know each other, you can switch round tasks to enable individuals to learn new skills or play to their strengths as required.
Document as you go
Get into the habit of recording what decisions were made or why actions were taken as the project progresses. Make use of your document management system. People have short memories, and while you might think you’ll remember the justification for choosing that risk response, with everything else going on during the project you might not have perfect recall in a few months.
Documenting project progress has the added advantage of making it easier to onboard new team members. They can quickly review existing project logs and trackers, files and reports. That will bring them up to speed efficiently, and prevent the risk of work being done twice because someone doesn’t understand what was done the first time.
For example, if a key stakeholder changes on the customer’s side, they may want to revisit the requirements. Without a full justification of why the requirements were defined the way they were, it will be hard to challenge that and keep the project moving forward. Of course, you can always incorporate changes to requirements, but doing so later in the project can slow you down if you aren’t using agile ways of working. It’s important that they understand that – combined with a detailed set of documentation, they may well choose to postpone any new requirements to a later phase of the project.
Acknowledge the differences that team changes bring
Adding someone new to the team makes the team feel different. That’s a fact. It’s worth acknowledging this with the team and talking about Tuckman’s stages of team development: when a new recruit joins, the team goes back to Forming again as they learn to work together.
It’s a leadership strength to acknowledge that things might be tough while the team regroups, whether that’s as a result of getting bigger through new members or because a member has been switched out.
Create an open culture where people can talk about the performance of the team without making it personal. Changes happen – and will continue to happen. The team has to learn to be resilient to grow.
Hopefully, your new starter will slot right in, being a good fit for the team and the work. However, there may still be some resistance, especially if the person is considered an ‘outsider’ such as a contractor. Contractors deal with this all the time and are able to put the existing team at ease quickly. They can spot team performance problems and are able to step in to help resolve them, before they become a blocker for the project.
Recruit high quality team members
Ideally, you’ll want to bring people into the team who are collaborative and flexible, and who will be able to hit the ground running. An experienced consultant can do that easily because they will have worked in a number of different settings in senior roles and can tailor their approach to suit you, the client.
They are used to changing between teams, quickly fitting into the culture of a new team and adding value from their first day. That consulting background gives them an advantage in slotting into a new team and making their new colleagues feel at ease.
Make sure your recruitment process is designed to be fair, transparent and free from bias. Recruitment is a great way to build capacity in your team, but only if you do it right.
Resource changes on projects happen frequently, especially on major initiatives and programs that take longer than a year. While it’s good to create a stable team environment, in reality, you should expect to see some change in the make up of the team from natural attrition and the need to bring in subject matter experts on short or long term engagements.
Part of managing those changes is to get into the mindset of expecting them to happen. From there, you can choose the best course of action to select the required resources and integrate them into the existing project team in the best possible way.