By Paul Murphy, author of The Unix Guide to Defenestration
What's the first thing you should do on being asked to lead a special project team? Ok, after that?
Let me tell you about my long and brilliant career as a curler.
In curling they paint some concentric circles around a bull's eye on the ice at one end of an arena and two teams stand behind a line at the other end taking turns sliding four rocks (per team) down the ice toward the bull's eye. The rules say you can't touch a rock once it's been thrown across the starting line and whichever team has the most rocks on or near the bull's eye at the end wins.
When my client, a senior manager at a big government agency, asked me to join her team for the agency's annual bonspiel (curling match) I warned her that I had never played. No biggee, she said, we're all amateurs and you can play lead. This, she explained, meant that I would throw the first rock in each round and is traditionally the role for the weakest player.
As it turned out, curling is as much about knocking the other guy's rocks out of the ring as it is about stopping your own on the bull's eye. A good lead, therefore, should throw lightly enough that the rock slides to a stop directly in front of the bull's eye but just outside the largest ring. That way it blocks the other guy and, if it does get nudged, could end up dead center.
Unfortunately fine motor control isn't my strong point. Hitting the back wall I can do --whether the other guy's rocks are in the way or not-- but sliding that thing to a gentle stop twenty feet short? not a prayer.
With my help our team lost every round.
So what's the first thing you should do when given charge of a project team? Assess what each member is good at and then ignore any pre-existing assumptions about specializations, heirarchies, or span of control to assign each appropriately. That's how you get your team to win --you match what each person can do best against what you need done and cheerfully juggle the lineup as you get more information about where each person can best contribute.