Success Story

Federal Government

The challenge

“Hooray! We’ve won the contract!” But now, how does the leader of a new project pull together individuals who may not know each other into a cohesive, efficient, motivated, effective team? Fast!

Increasingly, today’s teams consist of individuals who fill particular needs, regardless of location. Less frequent are situations where individuals who’ve worked together are assigned to a common project. Consider one team assembled for a Zelos project: the mid-career project leader had an evaluation background; the early-career team member was an IT/data analyst; the senior guru was a known expert in the field; the mid-career specialist was a knowledgeable journeyman; and the mid-career generalist was known for developing dynamite products but doesn’t know the field. And oh yes, two of these team members – the guru and the generalist — live in other parts of the country. What’s the project leader to do?

The Zelos Approach
Build commitment to and clarity about the project and the project team

First is to establish commitment among all members about the project – as a team. This is not – cannot be – a competition between or among team members! Building shared commitment is most successfully done by bringing the team together (face-to-face) for at least three days. The project leader orchestrates the meeting, shifting the pairs who work together, asking the guru to set the stage, talking individually with each to assure she knows their personal goals and strengths, and continually creating a collaborative, positive working environment. The project leader keeps up this mode of operation once the remote team members are back in their respective locations.

Assign tasks to changing pairs of team members.

After planning, the project leader assigns tasks/activities to team members that pair them first with one and then another team member so each depends on the other at different times and all share the larger work of the project. This pairing also results in cross-training and establishes back-up for each position. In addition, each team member needs to be assigned clear lead responsibility for some aspect of the project or final product.

Be consistently inclusive.

Unless it is not appropriate for security or privacy reasons, the project leader should constantly and always share everything with everyone on the team: information, opinions and ideas, and avoid “we-theyness.” Do not engage in or allow back-biting or snide comments. The integrity of the team is more important to accomplishing the project than any one individual, including the guru. And all in all, this ensures all team members understand the dynamics of the project and can pinch hit for one another, if needed.

Provide real and substantive opportunities for all team members to meet and interact with the client.

Each team member will “read” the client and the client’s needs from his or her own perspective. Putting together these observations yields a more nuanced approach to meeting the client’s needs. It also enables all team members to be thinking about how to best meet client needs, and may inspire each to a real commitment to the task.

Listen and question and provide guidance throughout… but don’t (often) dictate the approach or answer.

The project lead’s job is clearly to “define the size and shape of the box,” but not to determine everything that goes into it. A strong team contains individuals who bring different skills and experiences to the project. The project lead’s role is to guide discussion and actions to keep the team on course and on time – to reality check the ideas against the needs of the client in terms of results, cost, and efficacy.


Higher productivity and increased timeliness

Increased skill (and speed) at performing projects

Deeper knowledge about topics and programs as well as the client’s objectives

Ability to bring outside experiences, connections, and knowledge to bear

Richer analyses

More useful recommendations with broader applicability

Happier, more trusting client

Happier, more engaged, and more empowered team members, leading to improved retention