When you manage a team within your organisation or business you are responsible for keeping people on track, holding them to account, making sure that they do what the are there to do. And much more besides. Although each team member is way more than their role in the team (they all have other lives!) they are for the most part working, in the day to day sense, with you.

So any work to develop that team – improving working relationships, developing trust, ensuring optimal communication, defining a shared purpose and setting clear goals that they are accountable for working towards – has clear and limited boundaries.

But what about when you are trying to bring together a team of individuals, for example for a specific piece of work, and they are from different organisations? They might all be stakeholders in what you are doing, perhaps developing a programme or project, perhaps advising on an issue. But they don’t commonly work together so you need to help them become a team. Which can be tricky as team development for external teams requires a bit more thought.

External Teams

What’s different when it comes to team development for external teams and what do you need to bear in mind?

To start, they quite possibly don’t know each other and may not yet see themselves as a team. Factors which can stall even the most promising of starts! 

It’s also important to note that the make up of the group or team will likely be different to a ‘normal’ team. The participants may be more diverse if you are looking for a spread of input and ideas, or conversely they may all be quite specialist. Either way, there is less likely to be an obvious hierarchy and the dynamic quite different to that of their respective organisations.

They will have differing push and pull factors – things that mean they are more, or less likely to get stuck into being a part of your team:

  • Depending on what you are doing and how big or long your project is, the external team members will probably all have other time commitments and demands. Getting them together and agreeing meeting times can be tricky. Whose other commitments are most important to consider and accommodate and who should be able to ‘pull rank’?
  • The motivations and level of enthusiasm of these different members to the team may also vary wildly. An important consideration is how they got to be a part of the team in the first place. Were they happy to join, pleased to be invited, or sent begrudgingly? 
  • On a practical level, the members probably won’t necessarily have the same communication system or ways of doing things (thinking Microsoft Teams vs Zoom here). Equally, depending on where they have come from to be a part of your team, they may not have access to the same software/permissions. All practical considerations to keep in mind when you think about how this team will work together. 

To grease the wheels of this external team, what might you need to do differently compared to with an internal team?

  1. Spend much more time helping people to get to know each other, to build up trust and understanding, and develop a team culture. This part shouldn’t be hurried as those differences and as yet un-built trust, can affect the effectiveness of the team further down the line.
  2. Spend more time thinking about ways of working and how your team will function. Create a shared communication system or develop one together. Ensure that everyone can access and use this system.
  3. Help people understand why they are there – what part does each person play and what are they bringing to the group?
  4. Consider also what people are hoping to get out of being on the team and whether there is anything that you can do to ensure that this happens.
  5. Know what the purpose is. This might seem obvious, but without making it clear, there can easily be misunderstandings.

    Team purpose

  6. On a related note, ensure everyone understands the scope of the project or whatever it is they are working on. This will help them work out their commitment and input needs.
  7. You will need more time and probably more resources than with an internal team. Be prepared to spend more time thinking about these things than you might usually. 

At the end of the day the principles for collaboration are the same. The challenges and opportunities in developing a team and working together are not vastly different. They just require a bit more thought, and recognition that they are different.

If you are planning on bringing together an external team, and are acutely aware that the team needs to function well, do get in touch. I can help plan those first stages of external team develop so that the group can hit the ground running!

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