As a Collaboration Catalyst, you’ll often find yourself responsible for mobilising teams at the start of a project. There are different ways that these teams might have formed – an existing team might have a new challenge presented to them, or a conversation between new connections may identify an opportunity that they can address together.  But sometimes you might also need to bring various specialists and experts together around a problem to be solved.

In their book “Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing”, Bronson & Merryman state that ninety-percent of a team’s success is determined before they even start work (h/t Eric Barker). At Bracket, I’ve been continuously improving the way that we get the right mix for creative teams, particularly those including freelancers that may not have previously met.  Of course, you can never tell how people will work together until they actually start, but perhaps there are a few things you can do to start off in the right direction.

As sites like Guru and oDesk become increasingly popular, more companies are choosing freelancers to work on short-term projects. I’d like to share some insight into my process, to help you make good choices in selecting a top creative team.

Start with the individual. When you’ve clarified your project brief, begin by scanning through your network to find potential team members. This is not just about technical ability, but also down to interests or a niche in a specific sector. The great thing about freelancers in particular, is that they keep up-to-date with latest developments in their field. Use this to your advantage to find people that have a real passion for the subject area. Sometimes the ideal candidate will come to you immediately, but often there will be a few that you could choose from.

Do the match-making. Once you have your potential candidates, it’s time to use your best match-making skills to form the team – like fitting the pieces of a jigsaw together. Again, although technical ability will come into this (you’ll want to ensure a spread of skills), it’s also largely about the team dynamic. Consider the principles presented by tools such as Belbin Team Roles and Myer-Briggs Type Indicator, which show that individuals have tendencies and preferences in the way that they work. Diversity across these is important to make a team successful – varying across thinkers, coordinators, visionaries, doers and other types. Although you won’t have personality profiles to hand, you can draw on your personal knowledge of your contacts to create the best fit.

Build the team personality/identity.  A Collaboration Catalyst is instrumental in identifying the personality of the team and putting the foundations in place to help people work to the best of their ability.  Think of this as the forming, storming and norming stages of Tuckman’s team development theory, before the work actually begins. This can sometimes be a relatively quick process, but it happens nonetheless. My approach is to get all team members together at the start, regardless of when their main input will be, to build the project based on everyone’s expertise. It’s an opportunity for team members to understand everyone’s roles, see how everything fits together, and get a sense of the bigger picture. Because each team has a different ‘personality’, there is no one-size-fits-all process for collaboration. Therefore, develop a unique workflow for each team based on how members like to work, their preferences for communication and the dynamic.

Building teams for creative and innovation projects – where the content is often subjective – is not a straightforward process based on just technical skills. A great team dynamic can make the difference between good project and an excellent project. So it’s worth taking a strategic and considered approach to building the team, before the work actually starts.