What the Lions tour shows us about running project teams

I can’t wait for Saturday! The tour is now shaping up to be quite the epic struggle between the best rugby team globally, and a composite side of some of the best rugby talent the northern hemisphere has produced.

My employer, Robert Walters, is a touring partner for the Lions, which has given me a behind the scenes look at how this team of rugby all-stars came together. I can see parallels with how business projects should be organised.

Former Lion Richard Hill, the England rugby team manager, said: “It’s imperative to have the ability to accept where you are and what you’re trying to achieve by understanding what the outcome is”. 

The outcome for the Lions is to perform well in rugby matches, and the outcome for most business projects is to deliver change (be it technology change, or business process change). In both cases, this is achieved by bringing together a diverse group of people for a limited time – and getting the best out of them.

Team selection

There are numerous benefits of bringing outside talent on board for business projects. First, it offers fresh eyes to look at the problem you’re trying to solve. Second, you relieve existing employees from burning-out or trying to perform specialist tasks that they may not have the skills to deliver. Third, an interim team of change experts will be dedicated to the task at hand, helping to keep the project on time and on budget.

Like the Lions, each specialist in the team must play a defined role in the project to achieve a result. And besides their technical expertise, they also need to have proven their ability to adapt to changing conditions and triumph over adversity. Because change management is not for the faint-hearted.

Bring out the best

It’s surprising how the smallest things can undermine a project team’s chances of success. When Robert Walters surveyed contractors in Australia and New Zealand,  we found 60% had difficulties logging on to IT systems, 53% experienced incomplete/unclear inductions, and 38% reported poor communication with colleagues. 

What does this tell us? That many employers need better processes for their projects, including:

  1. When contractors join on day one, they must receive a project brief, including objectives, key milestones, and timings.

  2. The first few days should also include handover and knowledge transfer. This is a vital step and sufficient time must be allocated for this.

  3. During the life of the project, contractors should be included in meetings and social events, so that they feel part of the wider organisation.

  4. When milestones are achieved along the way, these should be celebrated. This helps keep the project team engaged and motivated.

  5. At the end of the project, exit interviews and post-implementation analysis should be conducted – and documented – so that lessons can be learned for future projects. This information should not walk out the door when the contractors do. 

Those are some of the golden rules that help bring out the best in project teams. It has been interesting to watch the Lions’ have progressed on this tour – their very own project – they’ve taken a relative small time to come together and form, now they’re looking to peak at just the right time…

By Shay Peters, New Zealand Director at Robert Walters.