Have you ever participated on a team that formed out of the blue to do an activity that was short lived?  If so, you have experienced the world of ad hoc teaming.  These teams are more dedicated to a specific project or outcome than traditional teams.  Ad hoc teams typically achieve their original goals and disband quickly.  Oftentimes ad hoc teams are cross functional in nature and can include varying perspectives.

Teams are an effective tool for organizations because oftentimes as a group the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  This inevitably makes the team more able to do the work than the individuals alone.  In traditional teams, trust and respect bind team members together.  As a long standing unit, team members develop synergy or a rhythm for accomplishing results.  Team members know how to draw on the strengths of the team members to achieve specific tasks and can be extremely successful in meeting objectives through a divide and conquer approach.  

High performing teams are characteristically known for:

  • Having a clear goal
  • Being results-driven
  • Developing competency of the team members
  • Having a unified commitment
  • Creating a collaborative climate
  • Holding one another to a standard of excellence
  • Obtaining external support and recognition when needed
  • Having principled leadership

While most of these characteristics can be found in ad hoc teams as well, they can differ in two significant ways:

Team members have a limited commitment; and
Team members tend to be more focused on individual contributions to the initiative than the team success over the long run

Because ad hoc team members are likely to be members of other long-standing teams and have other roles to fill organizationally, they can only provide a limited commitment to the ad hoc team’s activity.  It is possible for them to be distracted by having to perform tasks for the ad hoc team as well as their typical tasks.  Additionally, ad hoc team members are often chosen for their technical skills which can result in the replacement of a collaborative team-based climate with more of a specialist climate.  These teams can be built based on the hard skills of the participants rather than the softer more social skills that define high performing teams.  This short term project based environment can create a group that has little or no sense of true “teamness.”  

If attention is not paid to the interpersonal aspects of an ad hoc team it can lead to the following issues:

  • Members have little or no loyalty to the team or project
  • Trust between team members is limited
  • Teams don’t involve friendships
  • Team members lack shared experience, vision and a common belief system

To have an effective ad hoc team it is important to replace a team vision with a strong shared project vision.  It is important to craft that shared project vision jointly and on the front end of the initiative and revisit the vision as the “why” this group is gathering and committed to the project.  This can create a shared ownership of the project and provide a binding force to the effort.

Additionally, the culture of interaction of an ad hoc team is dependent upon a clear set of accepted rules.  This will help to establish a code of conduct for team members.  Rules will address communication, how to handle disputes, and the division of labor.

Another important aspect to ad hoc teaming is to be clear about the roles and work assignments of team members.  Because an ad hoc team is a “rapid fire” approach to working on a project there needs to be a highly structured arrangement for completing the work of the project.  Some ad hoc teams follow a project management approach for completing assignments which can ensure deadlines and milestones are met and help to enforce project trust for completed tasks.

In ad hoc teams it is beneficial to have a team leader who is good at managing details and deadlines.  The leader provides the structure which creates the framework for the work to be completed in a timely and efficient manner.

While ad hoc team leaders set the stage for the work, both leaders and members will be most successful when they can determine how to influence and motivate one another based on the project outcome rather than a sense of force.  By developing a shared sense of ownership, common understanding and consensus for the result, ad hoc teams can be effective and successful at bringing people together to pursue a short term projects.


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