ad hoc team challenges

At times teams are formed ad hoc. There is not much planning possible and you as a leader have to work with who ever is there. The same goes for the team – they have to work with everybody else.

It doesn’t happen too often in a “normal” working environment unless you work in a matrix structure where project teams are often different. During my time in the army it happened a number of times. And I remember quite vividly when during officer training our team of 8 got mixed together and over a period of 3 days we had to work our way back to base camp with different leaders and challenging tasks on the way. A number of times we were not united and had strong words with each other. Some coped better than others when they were in the leadership role.

forming – storming – norming – performing

The process a new team goes through is marked by these 3 phases. They can go quickly but usually they take their time. It depends largely on the leader. And that’s where the topic stems from. I firmly belief the leader of a team has huge influence how fast his team can achieve a performing stage. A team that is left to its own devices will often fall back a step. I experienced that on that exercise. A good leader could identify or knows the qualities of each team member and assign a role to each. That step simplified his task tremendously as people focussed on what they had to do rather than discussing who was doing what and how. Every change in leadership disrupted what had been achieved and we started from scratch. A weak leader never got out of the team debating his decisions.

Team vs task management

As a leader you have a choice how you want to approach the ad hoc team challenge. You can focus on the task at hand and start the doing. This works for a short period time. After that you a disillusioned team. It’s very much alike to micro management. This approach can be very successful in special circumstances: time is of essence and you are the subject matter expert.

Most likely that is not the case. Focus on your team instead. Appreciate the situation at hand. Your attitude towards the team and each team member personally is important. Learn what their expertise is and let them help you coming up with the right distribution of roles. Planning what and how to do it will save you time in the long run and more importantly the team will trust you as they have contributed to the decision making process.


When  new people work together it is good to have common practices. Then you can concentrate on the objectives rather than discussing “where to document things” and “what tool do we use for issue management”. Following the common processes is a given and you may want to expect this. I have worked in organisations and groups where this wasn’t the case. People treated processes as guidelines and used exceptions when they felt it being okay. Those cultural differences are important to know and acknowledge. Make it clear what your expectations are to avoid surprises. For critical things I recommend using a checklist approach.


And finally you need to think about the motivation of your team members. What’s in it for them? You can provide the environment, the goal, and the framework. They have to volunteer the passion. By letting the team know what is at stake, what’s the chance of success, what can they learn from it, and why it is important for each one to be on the team you provide reason and a good base for success.

What’s your secret in leading ad hoc teams?

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